With its multi-sport classes for kids of all ages (from tots to tweens), Kids in Sports is one of the premier organizations in the city for cultivating the joy of athletics among children.....
With a backpack of sports equipment and 30 willing kids, Coach Mike Strutt and Coach Kenny Colon launched Kids in Sports in the fall of 1999. By last fall 2010, there were.....
The athlete stands poised in front of the basket, ball in hand, eyes focused. Someone in the background calls out her name, which is emblazoned, along with the team name, “Rookies,” on the back of her shirt. She releases the ball and for one tense moment it seems to linger in the air before hitting the rim and falling to the fl oor. “Almost!” the coach calls, and gives the player a high fi ve. Her face breaks into a wide, toothy grin, and all three-and-a-half feet of her runs to the back of the line to try again. At Kids In Sports, success is defi ned as something more important than simply getting the ball into the basket.
Founded by dads Michael Strutt and Kenny Colon, Kids In Sports, which just celebrated its 10-year anniversary, is an innovative athletic program offering, among other things, classes that focus on multiple sports at once—including baseball, basketball, football, volleyball, soccer, and hockey— giving every child a chance to fi nd a sport they really love. The program’s goal is to not only teach the fundamentals of athletics, but to instill in kids a sense of confi dence and sportsmanship, and, most importantly, a love of physical activity. “Even if they’re not going to play a team sport, we just want to get the message across that physical activity is a great thing,” says Strutt.
“Fun doesn’t only come from T.V., videogames and computers.” Strutt and Colon, who prefer “Coach Mike” and “Coach Kenny,” met in 1995 during their fi rst post-college jobs as personal trainers at New York Sports Club. They had similar backgrounds: both were athletes with degrees in athletics (Colon in exercise physiology, and Mike in physical education and personal training) and had a passion for working with kids that included experience with after-school programs. They also shared an entrepreneurial spirit, and saw a need for a more comprehensive kids’ athletic program than what was available in New York at the time. “A lot of people who ran after-school programs were good with kids, but they didn’t necessarily have any sports knowledge,” says Strutt. “I think we said to ourselves, ‘wait a minute, that’s the way they’re teaching how to dribble a basketball or throw a baseball?’”
The two launched Kids In Sports in 1999 as an after-school program for 30 kindergarteners through 4th graders at the Allen-Stevenson School on the Upper East Side. In the beginning, Strutt and Colon had a limited budget and fondly recall making their own sports equipment. “We actually used a plunger for a batting T and bats we made out of noodles,” says Strutt. “But the great thing was that the children loved the creativity that we brought, and they learned how you can create sports games with really anything,” adds Colon. Their passion for sports and dedication to teaching attracted families to the program and kept budding athletes coming back. Ten years later, Kids In Sports has expanded to an enrollment of 1,000 children between the ages of 1 and 10, with classes held at several locations on the Upper East Side. Now, Strutt and Colon utilize topnotch equipment. Classes are held once per week, with six sports practiced two to three consecutive times over a 12-15 week session, ending with an achievement awards day. When athletes reach age 5, they can choose to focus on one sport for an entire session or continue taking multi-sport classes. Indoor and outdoor summer camps and birthday parties are offered for children through age 12 and take place throughout the city.
A key part of Strutt and Colon’s program is consistency: from “Tiny Athletes” (12- to 18-month-olds) to “Veterans” (9 and 10-year-olds), all participants begin with warm-up exercises, followed by activities that hone their individual skills, and the chance to play the sport in a group setting. The class ends with a cooperative learning game like tug-of-war. “We show them how to give a high five or shake hands—how to win and how to lose,” says Colon.
The skills taught at each level are age-appropriate and serve as building blocks for the next level class. “When we’re teaching basketball to 12- to 18-month-olds, they will really just be dumping the ball, however they get it into the basket,” says Colon. “They are working on their reach, their strength, and their coordination. The next level up will be pushing it, then push and jump, and before you know it, they get their hands into the right position for shooting.”
But the skill considered most valuable at any age level? Confi dence. Coaches use positive reinforcement to assure kids that whether or not the ball winds up in the basket, they did a great job just shooting the ball. Each class has an excellent coachto- child ratio (typically one coach for every four or fi ve children). And the language coaches use is purposeful and repetitive: phrases like “push the ball to the basket” and “hug the ball” are familiar by the time kids graduate the program or move on to the next level, a consistency that prepares kids for the structure of athletic programs in grade and high schools. Strutt and Colon interview hundreds of people to fi nd the right coaches for their program. They must go through training programs, starting out as support coaches and learning Kids In Sports’ language and teaching methods.
The founders’ own love of children informs their dedication to Kids In Sports. Both Strutt, who is dad to 12-year-old twin boys, Matthew and Michael, and 7-year-old daughter Emily, and Colon, who has a 2-year-old son, Kenzel, truly believe in the skills as well as the bigger messages the program imparts. “Everything that we’ve taught our kids here, I’ve tried to teach my son,” says Colon. Strutt says he gets a feeling of pride every time he sees a child on the street wearing the Kids In Sports t-shirt. “Yes, it’s our business,” he says, “but we also look at every kid in the program as our kid.”
Back in the gymnasium, another group of athletes is warming up—stretching, walking on tiptoe, and skipping. When one little boy becomes frustrated after having some trouble with his lunges, a coach is there by his side, gently correcting his movements and making sure he’s not left behind. “We realize how much sports has been a part of our lives and how it molded us as people,” says Colon. “We want to do that same thing for these children.”