Teens use their free time during Spring Break in many different ways – some go on vacation with family, many catch up on rest, some stay in town and work or get ahead on schoolwork, while others go on service trips with youth groups. For this year’s Spring Break, 29 youth and 7 adult mentors from Boys & Girls Clubs of Portland and Eugene attended our 2017 Playmakers Program for an immersive sport experience.
2017 PLAYMAKERS PROGRAM
Our Playmakers Program, which is designed to impart the Olympic and Paralympic values to young people, offers teens the opportunity to live, dine, and learn among some of the nation’s top athletes. Hosted by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), this four-day program at the USOC’s Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs pushes youth outside of their comfort zones and into new experiences. The youth are placed into smaller groups of 7-8 teens, accompanied by 1-2 adults, to facilitate teamwork, leadership, and sportsmanship skill building.
While being an athlete isn’t a pre-requisite for the program, each youth learns and plays new sports. The youth learned and practiced the following sports:
- Sitting Volleyball – Led by Brendan Ledwith, Coordinator for Sport Development for USA Volleyball, the youth learned about Paralympic and Sitting Volleyball history followed by a lively tournament between the small groups.
- Cycling – A highlight of this year’s program was a field trip to the Velodrome, the indoor racing track for USA Cycling. Simon Bennett, the National Team and Resident Program Coach for Team USA, reviewed safety and protocol of cycling in the velodrome – where the bikes have no brakes – before encouraging the youth and mentors to give the sport a try.
- Goalball – Participating in a sport for people with sight impairments was a challenge for many of the youth, but it was a challenge they welcomed and enjoyed! Kevin Brousard, the Membership and Outreach Coordinator for the United States Association of Blind Athletes, demonstrated the offensive and defensive techniques of Goalball and then encouraged the youth to play a few games on their own. Several teens commented that they were surprised how challenging the sport was and that it was an interesting change to rely so much on their listening skills. It brought their teamwork to a whole new level!
- Fencing – Lucas Scrimsher and Logan Storie, both Pentathlon Team USA members, taught the classic art of fencing to the youth. The teens were surprised to learn this seemingly simple sport was much more complex than it looks!
The USOC arranged a morning of breakout sessions and interactive workshops for the youth in the state-of-the-art Ted Stevens Sports Services Center. In the nutrition session, youth learned how to make quick and easy snacks, including a strawberry-banana smoothie. During the Conditioning and Peformance workshop, teens learned some of the resident athletes’ training techniques and were even able to use some of the gym equipment. With Sports Medicine and Sports Science, the youth learned about the incredible technologies available at the Olympic Training Center to help keep athletes healthy and competing at optimum levels.
After visiting all of the sessions and understanding how many people and a LOT of time and effort contribute to an athlete’s success, it truly became clear that success does not happen overnight – an important lesson for any teen.
An important aspect of our Playmakers Program is the opportunity for the youth to get to know athletes. While watching the Olympics or Paralympics on television or online, the athletes seem so distant and removed from everyday life, but meeting them in person and hearing their stories helps youth understand the struggles behind a champion’s success.
This year we were joined by two of our Champion Ambassadors, Esther Lofgren and Candace Cable. Esther used a slideshow, video, and icebreaker to teach the youth a bit about her sport of rowing. Candace shared her story as a Paralympian and also explained the LA2024 bid to the youth, as she is Vice-Chair for the LA2024 Bid Committee.
Several other speakers joined us as well. Roderick Sewell, a Para swimming champion who is an OTC resident athlete training for 2020, made quite an impression on the group of Playmakers. Many aspects of his story resonated with the teens, and his exuberant and warm personality made him feel like an instant friend to many of the youth. Needless to say, Roderick has a large group of new fans cheering him on as he trains. Haley Beranbaum, a Paralympic swimmer who competed at Rio in 2016, was there for our closing ceremonies and, together with Candace Cable, gifted the teens with a medal, commemorable pin from Sochi, and a certificate.
Marcel Tirado, Chief Technical Officer for Around the Rings, incorporated some real life lessons for the youth by sharing the importance of being open to opportunities as they come and pursuing passions and interests.
Our 2017 Playmakers Program is a result of incredible teamwork by several different groups. We want to extend a huge thank you to the mentors from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Portland and Eugene for their energy, awareness, and leadership in ensuring safe travels and an enjoyable time for the youth. All of our guest speakers and sport experience coaches went above and beyond to impart their wisdom – whether it be how to block the ball in Goalball or demonstrating the “power pose.” Of course, this program absolutely would not have been possible were it not for the superb staff at the USOC. We are grateful for the efforts of Chris Sullivan, the Chief of International Relations and Bids for the USOC, and the event manager, Chelsy Hodge, both of whom ensured this program would be a success.
Now we begin planning for next year!