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

The folks at NASA have a rule of thumb: when they’re launching a rocket, if the vessel is on target and true to its mark in the first six seconds after blast-off, then their job is largely finished. If, however, it is off target by even a fraction of a millimeter in those first six seconds, it will most likely miss its target by millions of miles. The same is true of children.

In the Arena is committed to early intervention in the lives of young Americans in order to ensure that every one of this country’s youth have an opportunity to launch into their adult lives with the same precision, skill, courage and attention as attend a NASA spacecraft. After all, our cargo is just as precious and our mission equally exciting.

Drawing from personal experience and observation as well as from the established scholarship of social learning theorists, who have concluded that significant change can be effected when an observer is motivated to imitate the physical and/or moral behavior of a model, In the Arena fosters lasting and meaningful relationships between the highest-caliber mentors and the youth who look up to them.

As an example of the ways in which Arena Athletes are intervening in the lives of their program participants and encouraging them to make valuable and life-improving adjustments to their behavior, consider the following story recounted by Tim Broe, a 2004 Olympic finalist at 5000m and current volunteer head distance coach for the his alma mater high school men’s and women’s track teams in East Peoria, IL.

Early in the season, long before any meets were on the near-horizon and at a time when Tim was largely trying to figure out how to handle the record number of participants who had flocked to the track program after news of his involvement had spread, Tim assigned his women’s team a short run followed by a set of drills, strength-building and core exercises. As is usually the case, Tim ran the 20 minutes with his student-athletes and then supervised and instructed them as they embarked on their conditioning circuits.

Tim had his team striding, skipping and jumping, doing sit-ups, push-ups and balancing exercises, and even trying a few pull-ups using an available bar. Some of the student-athletes could step right up to the bar and manage a full set of pull-ups, others got in a few before fatiguing. But one student-athlete, who had a different strength-to-weight ration than the others, and who will, Tim is sure, grow into a powerful shot putter, took one look at the bar, one look at Tim and said, “Coach, I can’t do this.”

“Sure you can,” Tim replied. “Go ahead. Give it a try.”

“Nope. I can’t do that. There’s no way.” And at this point the young woman grew visibly shy and began to back away from the bar.

“Oh no, no, no, you don’t,” Tim jumped in, and he corralled her back towards the bar. About as excited at the prospect of trying a pull-up as one would be at the thought of attending a novocaine-free dentist appointment, the student-athlete fixed Tim with a look of trepidation and shook her head “no.”

Tim, undaunted and with a clear sense of what was at stake (namely: not merely a successful pull-up but a much greater accomplishment), guided the student-athlete back over to the bar, and asked her just to give it a try, one try. Reluctantly, she reached up to bar and when she did, Tim crouched down and grabbed hold of her feet. As she pulled up, he lifted, and lo and behold, the young woman did her first pull-up. And her second. And her third. She completed a full set.

After practice was over and the team had disbanded, the student-athlete circled back around to Tim and asked if she could speak with him for a minute. “I just want to say thank you, Coach,” the young woman explained. “No one’s ever told me I can do something like that before. I didn’t think I could do it and I wouldn’t have tried if you hadn’t asked me. So, thanks.”

In her adolescent expression, that student-athlete captured the essence of In the Arena: to empower young Americans to recalibrate their lives’ trajectories based on a new understanding of their very own skills, capabilities and potential. The Arena Athlete’s purpose is to lift, as Tim did, to elevate the expectations of their program participants so that long after the program has concluded, each participant will continue to thrive.

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