I am typically not the super gung-ho sports mom. I enjoy watching my boys play, but in moderation. I have no desire to sign my kids up for traveling teams. I have no desire for my life to revolve around a 5, 7 and 11-year-olds’ game and practice schedule. But on Saturday, as we do every Saturday for 8 weeks, we loaded the van up and drove 30 minutes to get to my 7-year-olds basketball game – passing several closer locations that he could play at, including the Y which is about 4 minutes away. So why would I, not a gung-ho sports mom, drive 30 minutes to get to a game? Because I love, love, love the league.
For the first time this year, we signed our 7-year-old up for basketball through Upward. Upward is a Christian sports league that locally is run by churches. Our league has 4 churches that participate. (We are not a member of any of those churches.) And in case you read “run by churches” as a small league that is not very well run, you are way off! The teams are split up by grades. There are 8 second grade teams. They are well coached and super organized.
So what makes it different? In addition to working on skills and learning how to play, they seem to be concerned about developing the players’ character and sportsmanship. Probably the best way to explain is to walk you through a typical game.
When the players arrive, they first meet their team in a classroom for a team meeting. The parents go to the gym and then the players come to the gym as a team. They then individually run in while being introduced on a PA system. (Click below to see a video of my guy running in… so cute!)
After the players are all introduced, the teams meet in the middle of the gym for an opening prayer. One of the coaches prays with the 2 teams. He doesn’t usually pray loud enough for me to hear what he’s praying, but I assume it’s along the lines of “Help us to play well, to play fair, and to have fun…”
The players are given color ties to attach to their jersey. They then meet the player on the other team who has the same color tie so they know who they are guarding. The coaches really try to make sure the players are all playing a 1-1 defense. My poor guy, is one of the shortest players out there but he seems to always be matched up to a tall kid! It’s so cute though watching him chase the player around, hold his arms up and jump up and down to prevent his opponent from making shots.
The time-keeper blows a whistle for subs and they do a good job of making sure everyone plays. He then blows a whistle signaling half-time during which they bring all the players onto the floor and someone shares a 5 minute “devotion” with them. During this time, they talk about things like smiling at others, loving others, being a good sport. The players all sit quietly, listen, and seem eager to answer questions that are asked of the group. It may seem odd to stop a game, have the players all sit down and then talk about a serious subject. But it shows me that they care more about my son’s character than how good of a player he is.
The players finish up the game and then return to their classroom for a closing team meeting. (This may actually be my son’s favorite part of the day!) At the meeting the players have a snack and are awarded different color iron-on stars. The coach presents the star to the players with a description of why they earned the star. Two weeks ago, my guy earned the “Best offense” star because even though he didn’t score a basket, he always made sure to get open and be ready. The week before he earned the “Best defense” star and last week he earned “Best sportsmanship” star. We take the stars home and iron-them on the sleeves of his shirt. All week, my son will ask, “Did you put my stars on yet?” (He also earns a green star for attending practice.)
In our rushed world, it is so nice to see them taking the time to really talk to the players. I love that the focus is on the child first and the sport second (don’t get me wrong – they are just as well coached and instructed as any of the other leagues we’ve been involved in). Because, after all, why do we sign our young kids up to play sport? Is it so they’ll be an amazing basketball player who will get a scholarship and eventually play in the NBA? Or is it so they’ll learn the sport, learn about playing on a team, learn about being a good sport, and having fun? For me, it’s the latter and I haven’t seen any league do it better than Upward!
By the way… they also have cheerleaders! Unfortunately, the second grade teams all play at one church and there isn’t room for the cheerleaders at it, so we’ll have to wait for next year to get the cheerleaders!
If you have a child who plays sports (basketball, flag football, soccer, cheerleading)… definitely check out Upward at www.upward.org They have leagues all over the country and if your local league is anything like ours, you won’t be disappointed! (And no, Upward has no idea I’m promoting them!)