When it comes to creating a successful youth athletics program, it’s all about dialogue.
“To build a sports program from the ground up you first have to build a dialogue with both students and parents,” says Stefan Driehuizen, athletics director and physical education teacher at Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy (BCHA), who launched the school’s first comprehensive after-school athletics program.
“When I introduce kids to a new team sport—basketball, baseball, volleyball, etc.—I start out by sharing my own personal experiences and how much participating in team sports impacted my life.”
That opens a dialogue, he says, that extends to parents as well.
“This year, we concentrated on laying the foundation of a solid program that will grow as we move forward,” says Driehuizen. “A big part of the program’s success has depended upon getting information out to parents, and creating a dialogue so they are knowledgeable about the benefits of after-school sports. When I took on this role, a lot of parents were in the dark. They didn’t know what was being offered. But ongoing and effective communication with parents has brought them on board.”
Driehuizen, who holds a masters in athletic administration from Southern Connecticut State University, served as head coach of Bi-Cultural’s seventh/eighth grade basketball team for four years before joining the faculty this past September. Previously, he served for five years as a sports and recreation coordinator at the Stamford JCC.
As the academic year comes to a close, it’s clear that the new sports program has exceeded all expectations.
“This year we’ve already had seven official sports teams competing in the FAA [the Fairchester Athletic Association, a sports league comprised of private schools in Fairfield County and Westchester],” says Driehuizen, noting that the school’s fifth/sixth grade girls basketball team is this year’s division champ—and the first undefeated team in Bi-Cultural history.
In addition to volleyball, cross-country and basketball—including a JV boys high school basketball team—a coed tennis team was added to the mix this spring, as well as a junior bobcats team for pre-k through fourth grade and a basketball fundamentals and skills clinic.
“Kids may not realize it, but the benefits of participating in team sports go well beyond the court,” said Driehuizen. “It teaches them about hard work, dedication, dealing with both success and failure and developing the strong bonds and special friendships that come with being part of a team. Most importantly, it teaches them the life skills they will need when they’re adults out in the world.”
The road ahead looks bright, says Dreihuizen.
“It’s been a great first year and we’ve made a lot of progress, but realistically it will take three to five years to give the program a solid foundation. A good sports program doesn’t start out of nowhere. It starts with kids. They have to take a sense of pride in representing their school.”
By Judie Jacobson