As a parent, I can remember the challenge of getting my kids off the video games, computers, or from in front of the TV. That was in “normal” times… Now, during Covid-19 distance learning, our kids are forced to sit and pay attention for hours during their school day and then remain on the screen to do their homework. When they are done with the classwork, our kids want to stay on the screen to play games or connect socially with their friends.

As someone who has dedicated my entire adult life to helping kids live healthier and happier lives through sports and athletics, this is so frustrating. A few days into the pandemic the entire team at the National Academy of Athletics began working on ways to help kids safely engage in fitness, sports, and athletics. Our NAofA Area Captains quickly jumped into action to create on-demand videos and sports drills that children could do with little space or in their backyards.

coach youth sports

We stayed in close contact with our Community Partners. They too were struggling to see how they could help the kids in their communities. We shared our on-demand video library with our Community Partners and soon cities across the country were reaching out to request the use of these videos to share with their communities. We were delighted to be able to give kids everywhere an engaging way to get some exercise, continue to improve their athletic performance, and maybe even get their minds off the pandemic.

As doctors and scientists learned more about the contagiousness of COVID-19, how it spreads and how to stay safe, we knew we had to find a way to get kids out of the house and be able to experience in person sports camps. My team spent countless hours researching, learning, and listening to both the Center for Disease Control and local health officials.

We then carefully created safety protocols that would allow kids to be able to participate in programs that were in-person, safe, and fun. We’ve been able to run sports programs now successfully since last fall. Following our protocols, we have seen tremendous success in happy kids, happy parents, and our Community Partners are loving that we are putting recreational sports and athletic programs back into their communities.

Our protocols have been mandatory- we reduced our number of participants, kept them in pods, age-specific, consistent participants, and the same coach teaching each group. We checked temperatures daily on arrival, had a checklist of questions the parents were required to answer, and supplied all the sports equipment which was sanitized before and after each use. Kids were not allowed to bring items to the camps other than food they would consume or throw away before the end of the day. We developed new programs that allowed kids to run, play, laugh, and have fun while keeping safely distant from one another.

youth coach

The reward has been amazing. Not only were we able to service the kids in the communities where we have been for years, but as the word spread, we expanded our Community Partners to an additional 32 locations.

While many have just shut down and decided to wait it out, our team at the NAofA have been engaged in out of the box thinking to help children have a chance to move, play and learn. Knowing the importance of their social and emotional interaction, we adjusted our curriculum to engage kid’s minds as much as their bodies. We even added a new member to our team to bring in new expertise on SEL (Social Emotional Learning).

I guess it is all how you look at it. Has our annual revenue been significantly reduced? Absolutely! Have we been pushed to spend more money on safety supplies like masks, hand sanitizers, and cleaning supplies? Yup. Have we had to spend time and money on additional training for our staff? We sure have, but the result is that the National Academy of Athletics is ready for anything. The future is bright.

We ended up with more fall programs in 2020 than we did in 2019. Yes, they were smaller in size, but they were being offered in even more locations. It first looked like 75-80% of our Community Partners wanted to offer some form of in-person programming as we headed into 2021, but soon after seeing our protocols in action, we ran programs with every one of our Community Partners. We then scheduled more summer programs than ever before, ending the summer with over 15,000 participants.

As the CEO and founder, I must say that I am proud. Proud of the impact we are having on kids’ lives and the wonderful feedback we hear from the parents. Our Community Partners have all been so grateful that we have been able to help them provide the needed youth activity programs to their community. I am also so incredibly appreciative of our NAofA team. Our leadership has stepped up to the challenge and exceeded expectations. I feel blessed to be in the company of wonderful people who are committed to helping create confidence, optimism, and personal growth for the children in the communities we serve.