The professional football players we see on the weekend had to start somewhere. The same holds true for the football teams we live and die with on Friday nights. Before any of them could run onto the field to their claim to fame, they had to learn the basics and there had to be someone there to teach them.
Bartow Parks & Recreation has started a program called “My First Sports” that covers football, baseball, basketball and soccer. The football program kicked it off last year and the overall program was such a success that organizers decided to bring it back again this year. It has given youngsters aged 3-7 their chance to show their skills for future team competition.
The six-week program is being held on Tuesday nights at the Carver Recreation Center. The first session is open to the younger hopefuls aged 3-4. Once they have finished, the “older kids,” aged 5-7 take over the gym.
Recreation Specialist Lauren Meduho spearheads the program again this year.
“This is a parent participation class,” she told the youngsters and their families. “It is designed to be fun for everyone. We will be focusing on teaching the basics. The program is based on the Smart Start program that has found that when the kids learn the basics, they will achieve more in organized sports.”
Each session started with stretching in the middle of the gym floor. Once the kids had finished the required calisthentics, the footballs came out. The group was moved to the far end of the gym and instructed on how to properly hold a football for passing. The youngsters threw the ball at the wall, then gleefully chased it down to do it again. From there, the parents and family friends became the throwing parties while the kids worked on the proper catching technique. In the 3-4 group, this proved to be a bit of a challenge with more than one boy taking a ball to the face accidentally. By the end of the catching drills, there had been a marked improvement.
When dealing with young minds, it is important to keep the drills somewhat short to keep the attention focused. The students were given liberal water breaks between every few sessions to keep their interest. After catching, they worked on kicking drills and closed off their session by practicing some running, forward and backwards.
At the end of the session, the kids were a little worn out and the parents had been through a little more than sitting on the sidelines, but had valuable one-on-one time with their children. With each passing week, the students will become more familiar with the routine and remember what they had learned in previous weeks, allowing them to spend more time on their skills.
The class sizes for football are small for this year, but the word will be getting out when the sign ups come for the other sports. Since the program is based only on age, some participants from last year are expected to once again be a part of the new season.
Three- and four-year-olds taking the My First Sports Football program are Luis Aguirre, Andrew Coates, Austin Martin and Major McBath, The second session is dominated by 5-year-olds, but there are some 7-year-olds in the class, who will likely be moving to Bartow Unlimited or Bartow Youth Football program next fall. The students of the second session include DeMarion Abrams, Hunter Chauncey, Ethan Felix, Jericho Glover, Noah Hall, Tyler Harrell, Juvenico Hernandez and Daniel Lopez.