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Youth Sports

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Baseball, soccer, hockey, biking, wall climbing -- these are just a few of the sports and fitness activities available for kids and teens. Many of the people who make these activities possible are volunteers.

"Volunteers run the whole league," says Guy McCann with North Bergen Volunteer Baseball in New Jersey.

"Coaches, umpires, scheduling, the refreshment stands, supplies -- it's all volunteer. For 30 teams, we've got 120 volunteers coaching and 18 guys on the board of directors, and with all the other positions, maybe 200 volunteers in all," says McCann.

As a coach, McCann has to donate one evening a week for practice and must work at least one game a weekend during baseball season. "I enjoy the game, I enjoy the kids," he says.

McCann says coaching is more than teaching the kids how to play ball -- it's showing them how to live a good life.

"Sports is one thing, but it keeps kids off the streets and keeps them away from drugs," he says. "I coach seven year olds and I tell them drugs are bad, and to stay away from that garbage."

Thomas Joseph Legg, a coach with the North Bergen Volunteer Baseball League, says his 12-year-old players learn valuable social skills. If players tease another team member for missing the ball, he makes them run laps. "If the coach makes you run laps for calling someone names, maybe you'll think about it," he explains.

At North Bergen Volunteer Baseball, volunteers run the whole league, from coaching and umpiring to selling refreshments.
Courtesy of: NBVB

Some volunteers work with groups or teams, others work with kids one-on-one. "It depends on the program," says Carla Plican, the volunteer coordinator for the Paralympics Association.

"Our Fun for Kids program has about 25 kids registered and about 15 attend each week. We have 10 volunteers working with them, but the more volunteers, the better!"

Plican says kids with disabilities can have a tough time participating in many sports and activities. Volunteers can help get them off the sidelines for at least a couple hours a week.

"It's best not to focus on the disability, just see them as kids who want to participate in sport," says Plican.

Plican says whatever the sport or physical activity, the best volunteers are those who are dedicated. "Also, they are there to have a good time," she says. "If they're having fun, the kids are having fun!"

Working with kids has volunteer Danielle Tailleur climbing the walls -- literally!

"We do wheelchair rugby, basketball and archery. Last weekend we did tae kwon do and wall climbing!" she says.

Tailleur is a volunteer with Fun for Kids, a program run by the Paralympics Sports Association. "I just love it. The kids are great. They're just so open and fun to be with. They don't care that they're different," she says.

Tailleur says the biggest challenge is knowing how to encourage kids without discouraging them. "You have to say, 'Come on, you can do it! I know you can!' and prove to them they can," she says.

When her group tried wall climbing, Tailleur could see one of the kids was really nervous about going up. "I said, 'I'll go up if you do!'" she remembers. That was the encouragement the girl needed. They both went up the wall.

"Afterwards she was saying, 'That was so awesome!'" says Tailleur with a smile.

Marilyn Price with Trips for Kids in San Rafael, California, says that sometimes it takes more than encouragement to get her kids to the top. Trips for Kids provides mountain bike outings for urban youth. Price says many of these kids have never been on a long bike ride -- let alone a ride to the top of a mountain!

"A lot of kids we take are not fit," she explains. "I remember one ride where another volunteer literally pushed a kid from the bottom of the mountain to the top!"

Whether they ride, walk, or get pushed, the payoff for the kids is a spectacular view and the ride back down the mountain.

Price says she started Trips for Kids because of her love of biking and the environment. She says her very first day on the trail convinced her it was the right thing to do.

Price had arranged a day trip for the Boys and Girls Club, matching kids with bikes and a volunteer buddy to help them through the ride. At the start of the day, Price was nervous. The kids were all quiet and somber. Then, they started biking.

"About 10 minutes later they were all smiles. They loved it!" she says. "I attribute it to great wilderness and bikes."

Legg coached his baseball team to the championships last season. "I told them if you work hard it will be rewarding, so it was great to be able to hand them their jacket and trophy at the end of the year," he says.

Legg says there was one team member in particular that he really feels he helped. The boy had attention deficit disorder (ADD). At first, Legg had him in the outfield catching fly balls, but that wasn't working.

"You could just see his frustration and when he missed the ball he'd get more upset," explains Legg.

Legg figured it would help if this player was in on every play and didn't have time to daydream. "I put him in [as a] catcher and he became the best catcher in the league," he says proudly.

Success gave the boy confidence, which in turn made him a better catcher. "It was really rewarding for us, and for him," says Legg.

How to Get Involved

Since there are so many organizations looking for volunteer help with youth fitness and sports, there are many ways to volunteer your time.

You may already know of an organization needing your help. Have you been involved with baseball, soccer, gymnastics or ice skating? These are organizations that are always looking for trainers, referees and coaches. Call and find out what you can do!

Many clubs are listed in the yellow pages of your local phone book. Also check out the category Youth Organizations and Centers -- it lists groups like the YMCA, YWCA, Boys and Girls Club, Girl Guides and Scouts.

Still not sure? Your school counselor may also have some leads for you.

In many cases, applying for a volunteer position with these organizations is just like applying for a job. You may need a resume listing your interests, goals and experiences. You will likely be interviewed.

"Once someone says they're interested, I'll usually meet with them," says Plican. "We call it screening, and there is a safety element, but it's also letting them know what's involved and letting them decide if this is the program they are interested in so there's a good match."

Some organizations also require you to submit to a criminal record check.


Trips for Kids
San Francisco Bay Area nonprofit volunteer organization that provides mountain biking outings for urban youth

Paralympic Sports Association
Resources for young athletes, parents and coaches

The many youth programs of the Y depend on the direct financial support and volunteer commitment of people like you

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