A 2018 study from Nationwide Children’s Hospital, showed that just 5% of youth ages five to 18 reported meeting the federally recommended amount of exercise: 60 minutes per day. YMCAs and other community rec facilities aim to change this.
One way the Ott Family YMCA, a branch of the YMCA of Southern Arizona, located in Tucson, Arizona, is trying to change this is by getting children involved in sports earlier through their Itty Bitty Sports program.
“The YMCA Itty Bitty Sports Program has been serving preschool age children in Pima County for over 20 years,” said RJ Bergman, the executive director of the Ott Family Y. “The program introduces children ages three to five to the fundamentals of sports, teamwork and group norms.”
The program came about after the Y identified a gap in programming available for preschool age children. Today, Itty Bitty Sports brings in around 100 kids each season, with multiple seasons being offered each year at different branch locations in the county. Typically, three sports are covered during the season, in three separate three-week blocks.
The program offers more benefits to the children than just getting them active. “Itty Bitty Sports is a great way for young children to develop introductory sports skills in a structured, fun and nonjudgmental setting,” explained Bergman. “Personalized attention from encouraging coaches also promotes important lessons about fair play, teamwork and sportsmanship.”
Itty Bitty Sports also teaches confidence and skills to children in a non-competitive and positive environment. “The YMCA’s four core values — respect, responsibility, honesty, and caring — are infused into every class so kids focus on the value of sportsmanship and friendship, rather than rivalry, right from the start,” said Bergman.
Bergman went on to say they welcome parent involvement during some of the skills, but during game play, they allow the kids to explore the space and participate at whatever level they feel up to.
Like most programs, in order to operate successfully, you must have quality instructors. “With such young children you need to find dedicated staff who have a passion to work with the three to five age group and understand how to instruct, nurture and empower children at that age,” explained Bergman.
If your community rec facility is on the fence about adding another program, Bergman emphasized the Itty Bitty Sports are far more than just learning about sports. “For some kids this is the first time playing with a group of children their own age,” he explained. “Some have never had to wait in a line or share a ball before. Classes designed for preschoolers are teaching them about certain group norms that will help them as they start kindergarten or preschool.”
At the end of the day, the Y is about relationship building at all levels — even the itty bitty one.