For almost two decades, the Excellence in Youth Sports Award has recognized programs that are doing superior jobs of conducting diverse activities with a focus on providing safe and positive experiences for all participants - including children, parents and coaches. Each year hundreds of youth sports programs across the country and military bases worldwide vie to be an award winner. Developed by the National Alliance for Youth Sports and Athletic Business Magazine, the first Excellence in Youth Sports Awards were presented in 2000.
"Our participants are winning in social skills, teamwork and physical fitness while having fun," says Wendy Parker, athletics director at the City of Arlington Parks and Recreation Department. "Arlington is an unparalleled example of the power that comes about when people care about their young citizens."
With plenty of select and travel team opportunities throughout the city, the Arlington staff made their programs all about the kids – and making sure every one of them was having fun.
And what has transpired is remarkable.
Today, more than 7,000 children participate in its high-quality recreation programs. Plus, earlier this year the staff earned the Better Sports for Kids Quality Program Provider designation for providing a youth sports culture that is zeroed in on teaching important attributes like teamwork and social skills, promoting physical fitness, and making sure every step along the way is filled with fun.
"We offer some things that are just a little bit different, like our Tiny Tots Triathlon," Parker says. "It is geared to that younger age group of 8 and under where they bring out their tricycles or bikes; they'll run a little bit; and then for the water element we do water slides. I can tell you it's a battle for mom and dad to get them off that water slide at the end of the day! We approach things a little bit differently."
The department's "Playing is Winning" philosophy is a powerful program principle that is changing young lives every day.
"We definitely hit a homerun with our program philosophy," Parker says. "In the past 10 years, Arlington has grown in participation across the board. Our program is designed to capture the 95 percent of kids that want to play and have fun knowing they are not seeking a college scholarship. We are building the love and passion for the game in hopes that these young players will become adult participants and one day coach their kids in our program. That is one of our goals through the 'Playing is Winning' design. Focus on the participant and a lifetime of sports adventures."
Arlington's youth sports programming includes a variety of options for kids ages 3 to 14, including soccer, t-ball, coach-pitch, kid pitch, volleyball, girls' softball, lacrosse and basketball.
"Our program philosophy was adopted as a main principle. We have not wavered on its mission," Parker says. "Our future success will be measured by our youth's passion for lifelong sports and physical fitness. Winning the Excellence in Youth Sports Award means that we are viewed as a prestigious program that offers a wide array of sports and activities for all youth, regardless of their athletic ability. It also validates our 'Playing is Winning' program philosophy, which focuses on the participant."