Youth sport can play a pivotal role in the development of happier kids, healthy families, and stronger communities. But in Western New York, it is often difficult to attract and retain effective, dedicated coaches. A $569,100 grant from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr., Foundation will support Niagara University’s efforts to establish a qualified cadre of coaches to serve all youth populations throughout the region’s eight counties, with a special focus on marginalized communities historically not able to participate in youth sport programs.
The award will be used to launch and sustain the Project Play Western New York Cornerstone Program, a coaches training program that uses in-person, online, and mobile Social Emotional Learning platforms to engage and educate coaches and youth sport leaders on the importance of emphasizing youth development alongside the athletic development of children. The training will be offered to more than 5,000 coaches of youth between 4 and 13 years of age across all communities, sports, and abilities in Western New York.
“Youth sports participation should be a fun experience, a shared family memory, and a valuable part of a child’s athletic and emotional development,” said Bridget Niland, dean of Niagara University’s College of Hospitality, Sport and Tourism Management, who will oversee the program in partnership with PPWNY. “Through participation in sports, children get better at making friends and develop greater self-esteem, confidence, and social skills. The Cornerstone Program supports organizations, coaches, and families recognize and promote the lifetime value sport provides to children.”
Niland, former director of PPWNY, was involved in the development of the Cornerstone Program. She and the college’s educational leaders and faculty will manage the program and oversee the planning of in-person training sessions, building on the work already accomplished by PPWNY. The SEL training will emphasize the importance of creating a fun and safe environment for young athletes and establishing a clear purpose and organization for leagues. Students in the college will also have an opportunity to develop skills and gain experience in event and sport management.
As a first step, NU will work with partner organizations to complete the development of a customized online learning platform and a free measurement-focused phone app to help expand the reach and effectiveness of SEL training and messaging in WNY youth sports.
Local organizations that have already stepped forward to participate in the Cornerstone Program include the Buffalo Bills, the Buffalo Sabres, the Rich Family Foundation, the Susan Crown Exchange, the Buffalo Police Athletic League, the Buffalo-Niagara YMCA, the Diocese of Buffalo, the Gils Sports Foundation, Niagara Falls PAL, and WNY Amateur Football Alliance, among others
The Cornerstone Program is intended bring WNY kids and families back to sports by equipping youth sport organizations with concepts and tools to improve coaches’ knowledge and by providing support to engage parents and make the youth sport experience more enjoyable for everyone.