2016 Playmakers Program
Few people are able to witness the level of intensity Olympic and Paralympic athletes experience as they train for the games, let alone witness it in a setting like the United States Olympic Committee’s (USOC) Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO. Thirty-one youth and seven adult mentors from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Denver Metro and Weld County joined The Foundation for Global Sports Development (GSD) for just such an experience during their spring break this year, as part of our 2016 Playmakers Program.
In addition to learning how to play new sports, such as sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball, these teens met with former, current, and future Olympians and Paralympians; attended interactive sessions to see the latest technologies in sports science, conditioning, nutrition, and medicine; and worked as teams to understand the core values of sport – such as sportsmanship, fair play, hard work, goals, and more. For four days and three nights, the youth lived, breathed, ate, and slept like Olympians and Paralympians – even staying in the dorms and eating in the athlete dining hall.
THE SITTING VOLLEYBALL EXPERIENCE
USA Volleyball staff took time from their busy schedules to share the sitting volleyball experience with the youth. John Kessel, USA Volleyball’s Director for Sport Development, explained the history and rules of the game, while other staff members demonstrated technique. After their quick lesson, the Playmakers dove into the sport and had a wonderful time. Many youth cited this event as eye opening for them in terms of realizing the Paralympic sport options available to athletes with impairments.
Jennifer Chew, member of the U.S. Women’s Wheelchair Basketball National Team, led a group of experienced wheelchair basketball players as they taught the Playmakers how to use the wheelchairs and dribble, pass, and shoot the basketball – all while in the wheelchairs uniquely designed for the adaptive sport. Since many of the youth are members of youth league basketball teams back home, they quickly caught onto the sport. A rousing tournament-style competition ensued with some clutch shots close to the buzzer. Check out the photos in the slideshow:
At the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, athletes have access to some of the top equipment and sports knowledge in the world at the state-of-the-art Ted Stevens Sports Services Center. Our Playmakers were able to have a small group sessions with hands-on activities in Nutrition, Sport Science, Sports Medicine, Conditioning and Performance.
Hearing and understanding the experience of Olympians has always been a key element of our past Playmakers programs. For the 2016 Playmakers Program, we opened that experience to include Paralympians as well. Candace Cable, who holds multiple gold, silver, and bronze medals in wheelchair racing and Nordic and Alpine ski racing, spent the entire four days participating with the youth and sharing some of her own experiences as a Paralympic athlete. Crissy Perham, Olympic swimmer gold medalist, spoke to the group about the importance of setting goals and finding a community of people to support those goals. Esther Lofgren emphasized to the group of teens the importance of being resilient and not losing sight of goals even when one experiences a setback. On the final evening of the program, Marcel Tirado, Chief Operations Officer of Around the Rings, spoke with great relevancy about life after high school and reiterated that what the youth are doing now in their lives can have great impact on their future.
We send a big thank you to our guest speakers, all of whom traveled to Colorado Springs on their own time for this event!
The youth didn’t have much down time, as we kept them busy with a multitude of activities including a torch lighting ceremony, a visit to the new Velodrome, a men’s gymnastics demonstration, a scavenger hunt at Garden of the Gods, a Capture the Flag contest, a closing ceremony complete with medals, and journaling and discussion questions for their team time.
This event would not have been possible without the hard work of many groups and individuals. First and foremost, we thank the mentors from Boys & Girls Clubs of Denver Metro and Weld County for ensuring safe travels to the Olympic Training Center and spending every minute of the day with the youth in their activities. We also recognize Chris Sullivan, the Chief of International Relations and Bids for the USOC, and his event team, Jim, Chelsy, and Colvin for being amazing hosts to this program and making it memorable.