Start Smart a hit at University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Start Smart a hit at University of Nebraska-Lincoln


By Ker’Shyra Myrick

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s campus recreation department is committed to using quality programs to promote lifelong wellness.

And it has found a perfect fit with the Start Smart Sports Development Programs.

The department has been running several Start Smart programs – including basketball, soccer, baseball and softball – for several years now.  

“We started running these programs because we were looking to get more involved in the community and have more engagement with the parents and youth,” said Brian Stelzer, Assistant Director of Sport Clubs and Youth Activities. “We saw these programs as a good opportunity to give back to the community.”

And parents and children throughout the community clearly love being involved with them.

“Last year we had around 160 participate,” Stelzer said. “We have a lot of kids that come back for the entire year, until they age out of the program, which I think is terrific. We have a consistent group of kids that will come for every sport because they enjoy it that much. We are able to offer spots to 24 kids each session.”

Basketball and baseball are its most popular Start Smart programs. “They fill up every time and we usually have a waitlist, which is a great problem to have,” Stelzer said. “We have gotten some really great feedback from all of the parents. They particularly like our staff’s ability to keep the kids engaged and keep them moving.”

Moms and Dads also point to the program’s environment as a big reason why they want to be involved with their kids.

“Parents appreciate the entire atmosphere of the Start Smart program,” Stelzer said. “This is not a competition. We're not here to necessarily win a game or anything else like that, which makes it that much easier. Even if there's one kid that's not necessarily the best at dribbling a basketball, they don't feel the pressure to perform.”

The Start Smart programs the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s staff conducts are known for being filled with action, fun and learning – which both the parents and kids love.

“The moments that always stick with me are how much they enjoy just being able to have this   opportunity,” Stelzer said. “One parent has told me how much they loved the fact that even though their child has aged out of daycare, they have friends who come and participate in the program and they can still come here and be together. That is always nice to see. When they are happy, we are happy. That’s exactly what we're after.”

By offering several different Start Smart programs throughout the year they have been able to reach more families, which in return has had a positive impact throughout the community.

“We saw this as a great way to get our foot in the door with parents,” Stelzer said. “Teaching kids at an early age about sports and the fundamentals is something that we saw was lacking in the community, so being able to offer several of these types of programs has been a great experience for our department.”

The Start Smart programs are primarily overseen by students who are studying to work with youth and families in some capacity when they graduate, or who are interested in coaching. Being involved in the program gives students both the chance to interact with kids and parents while also gaining valuable work experience.

“We have two to four students in each program, depending on the number of kids we have,” Stelzer said. “Our current students have worked for me and sometimes they also work for us in our summer camp setting. It's mostly students looking for a little more experience with kids.”

Getting kids to participate can often be a challenge for a youth sports program, but marketing has not been an issue for the university in attracting participants. 

“Thankfully, we've been running our programs long enough that a lot of our marketing has been through word of mouth,” Stelzer said. “Community members or students here on campus heard about the programs we offer and since we have some nontraditional students, a lot of them have children they want in the program. We actually doubled our programs last year after I started working in the department. We went from one day for one sport to two days for each sport, and we've seen a lot of good feedback on that.”

Start Smart Parenting Skill Development

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