The Ultimate Youth Sport Advocate: NCYS

Sally Johnson Photo Feb 2012

NCYS Executive Director Sally Johnson

By: Sarah McWilliams

The National Council of Youth Sport, headed by executive director Sally Johnson has already accomplished more than many organizations could ever dream. But their tireless work is never done. While the organization has too many initiatives to count, Sally Johnson and the NCYS spend their days revolving around one main focus: advocating for youth in sports.

This focus takes on many forms. It’s protecting children against concussions; it’s fighting childhood obesity; it’s quality background screenings for coaches; it’s just about anything you can think of in terms of keeping kids healthy and safe. And the NCYS is always evolving and innovating as it takes on new actions. But the one thing that stays consistent is that they are always maintaining the advocacy necessary to help organizations be the best and most efficient they can be.

Youth sports are an integral part of raising families, and while there are fantastic organizations available for youth participation, there are complex structural and safety issues associated with running a youth program.

And that’s where the NCYS comes in. The official mission of the NCYS states, “The National Council of Youth Sports (NCYS) leads the youth sports industry in promoting the value of participation through advocacy and education.”

With its vision to be the leading voice for youth sports, the nonprofit organization has taken great strides since its inception in 1979. Today, over 60,000,000 participants in more than 200 organizations benefit from the NCYS’s advocacy. That advocacy includes “promoting safe environments and healthy lifestyles for stronger neighborhoods and communities.”

And the NCYS’s hard work, while never-ending, has resulted in significant advances to protect youth in sports and encourage active, yet safe and efficient, programs for America’s youth participation.

“We like to pride ourselves on being an untiring leader in the United States for youth sports and advancing youth sports in America,” Johnson told ATLX.

564620_10151422440669852_84159132_nAt certain points in its growth, the NCYS was almost deemed too forward-thinking and received backlash from organizations and parents about some of its initiatives.

When Johnson and the NCYS initiated background screenings for coaches – long before situations had made headlines warranting the practice in the eyes of many – many members didn’t believe that background checks for coaches were necessary and would waste valuable time and resources.

“We were really ahead of our time, and we took a hit from some of our members,” said Johnson. “‘Is this really necessary? Are you creating a problem that isn’t really there?’ But we couldn’t be reactive to something like this. We needed to be proactive.”

Being proactive has been a constant motto for the NCYS – a mindset that most would agree is necessary considering all of the issues that a child could face participating in youth leagues.

While the NCYS promotes an active lifestyle for children, it also equally recognizes the safety issues that are associated with youth sports. It’s not just the safety from predators that children face playing youth sports. There are a slew of additional safety concerns that NCYS aims to address.

Concussion prevention is one particular focus of the NCYS. Sponsored by AIG, the aHead of the Game program strives to reduce the risk of concussion.

While safety is an important initiative, it’s not the only focus. Recognizing how cumbersome forms can be, the NCYS created an electronic version of parents’ forms that can be saved and reused for all sports. These forms also include a family history that can be reused for other programs.

But don’t mistake their goals and initiatives as an attempt to take over all youth organizations in the country. That’s just about the opposite of their purpose.

“Each one of these organizations – Little League baseball, Pop Warner football, USOC soccer, the Boys and Girls Clubs, the YMCA – they’ve been around for a long time and they know how best to run their organizations,” Johnson said. “What we want to do is be a resource for them. Help save them some time and energy if they’re looking into a particular area so they don’t need to reinvent the wheel.”

A field such as youth sports advocacy is certainly not an easy one. Naturally, Johnson faces many challenges in her day-to-day operations.

“Probably the most difficult challenge in youth sports today, not just NCYS, (is) reaching the parents with effective child, age-appropriate information,” Johnson said, “whether it’s reaching them about childhood obesity (or) letting them know there are tools out there to help them like this Electronic Pre-Participation Evaluation.”

What it boils down to is keeping kids safe and keeping kids active, which is why the NCYS has partnered with Child Obesity 180 using a three-pronged approach to reduce obesity among children. The after-school program promotes drinking right, moving more, and snacking smart.

Drink right refers to the elimination of sugary beverages, replacing them with water. Move more is designed to get kids out and active, while snack smart encourages parents to provide healthy alternatives for kids to eat.

As many issues as the NCYS has faced, they have made equally as many strides in working to keep kids both active and safe. And in order to do that, they have to make sure parents know what’s going on, have access to participation forms, and are constantly aware of the issues surrounding their children in sports.

“It all comes back to educating the parents,” Johnson said.

For more information on NCYS.


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