Connecting American youth and today’s athletes to cultivate character and community

In the Arena’s vision is to leverage the uplifting power of sport to effect lasting and meaningful change in today’s youth, with the aim of giving all young Americans equal access to the highest caliber role models and the best chance at success in the long-term.

It’s this last phrase, “the best chance at success,” that we have squarely in our crosshairs for both the short and the long-term. Advisor and friend Kevin Guthrie, a two-time Academic All-American at Princeton who earned a tryout in the NFL, and an entrepreneur with expertise in high technology and not-for-profit management, recently shared with us the story of his return to sport—as a coach of a nine-year old flag football team. Granted, having Kevin coach a team of nine-year old Tom-Bradys-to-be is loosely analogous to bringing E.B. White in to discuss grammar and syntax with a class of fourth graders, but as with everything he tackles, Kevin faced this challenge with abundant enthusiasm and rigorous preparation. In fact, he was so prepared that he arrived at his first practice of the season with a thick playbook.

Kevin and his team of nine-year olds studied, practiced and ran the plays game-in and game-out. Sometimes they’d win; sometimes they’d lose. Almost always, though, they’d face teams that deployed a completely different strategy, one that holds universal appeal in the world of youth sports: get the ball to the best player, who is usually the biggest and fastest player, and let him run with it while everyone else stands around and watches. While this approach won Kevin’s opponents quite a few games, it was one he refused to pursue with his own team. When questioned by parents and even other coaches why he was persisting with his detailed playbook, Kevin responded simply that the plays and the team’s collective understanding of and adherence to them was his way of giving every athlete on his team—every one—the best chance at success.

When Kevin’s team lines up for the opening snap of a game and every subsequent snap, each player on the field has an assignment, a job to perform, and thus a way to measure if he has been successful or not. Every player’s job is different: some run a pass route to clear an area, others carry out fakes, and of course someone gets the ball; but each player has a role that is important to the success of the play. And each player has a chance at success on every, single play, regardless of whether or not the team manages to advance the ball up the field, and regardless of whether the player gets the ball. With this objective in mind, Kevin says that some of his most important coaching moments were to congratulate a player and remind him that what he did away from the ball helped make a touchdown possible.

Kevin stuck with his playbook even though his team suffered some early losses. But as the season progressed, the kids’ enthusiasm for the game grew, even when they didn’t win. They knew they were getting better and they were having fun doing it. This group of young athletes finished the season with their eyes on a bigger prize: not bragging rights over a win-loss record, but a deeper understanding of how to define, pursue and gauge success. Our guess is that Kevin’s nine-year olds will mature into healthy, self-starting, independent ten-year olds and from there, who knows? The sky’s the limit.

In the Arena has taken a page from Kevin’s playbook, so to speak. Our vision is to place in the life’s toolbox of every program participant a definition of what success means for them and a roadmap for how to travel that route. Armed with these skills and other lessons that are naturally imported from the sporting arena to the realm of youth development, Arena program participants stand the best chance at individual success and the greatest chance at maturing into healthy, happy, productive contributors to their present and future communities.

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