Wednesday, June 15, 2011 - 2:34pm
posted by
David "DJ" Heyward,

American Humanics Student /
Team M'Phasis Coach

Many of us in the nonprofit sector work specifically with children and young adults. It can be a big challenge, but also, I'm sure we can agree, exceedingly rewarding.

For the past four years, I have had the privilege of working with Team M'Phasis, where I get to watch young boys turn into capable, determined young men. This organization uses sports, specifically basketball, as a vehicle to help youth get motivated in school and learn life lessons while at the same time producing some seriously great athletes.

Whether you work with young volunteers or interns, or if your organization focuses specifically on children's services, I've learned a few key points that have helped me make strong connections with kids during my time with Team M'Phasis. Below are a few of those take-aways to help you and your organization get the most out of working with youth.

Develop Their Court Vision


In working with youth, it's a good idea to have a strong, clear conception of what your organization aims to accomplish. By threading easily understandable concepts throughout your program, you’ll have a better shot at getting your message front and center. In my experience, I've learned how integral life skills can be taught and nurtured by tapping into something kids love: basketball.

For Team M'Phasis, it's important to not only teach kids through sports, but to also incorporate our religious beliefs into our work. Every one of our meetings, practices, and team events starts with prayer. Having Godly principles embedded in our program is the most important concept that we teach, and we make that a clear focus right up front. Kids know they can expect two things from us: sports and God. In other words, they can see the entire court. After we establish these principles, we can begin to teach them real life lessons that they'll use over and over again.

Teach Them to Pass the Ball

Developing the skill of working well with others is not accomplished simply by having a group of people show up and work (or play) together. But it's the kind of skill every kid needs, and one that we in the nonprofit sector have a unique opportunity to instill. As coaches, mentors, and teachers, we have to put our youth in situations where they learn the best ways to communicate with one another, help each other, and encourage one another. As anyone who watches basketball knows, it isn't always the best players who win — it's the ones who play best together.

At Team M'Phasis, we accomplish this by including team building components in everything we do, especially in our "team drills." During these, we give our students a list of commands to do, and they as a group have to get it right and figure out the best way to do it together. Games like this teach the kids how to interact with one another in a positive way that also accomplishes whatever goal they're aiming for. Try to think of ways you can encourage your interns and volunteers to work with one another. Doing so will prove valuable not only for them, but also for the efficiency of your organization.

Move Beyond the Court

It's fantastic to work with youth, whether they're volunteers or the people you're helping. But what happens "after the final buzzer?" Try to engage the kids involved in your organization beyond your normal working hours. Find creative ways to keep building those relationships. Making a good connection with a nonprofit organization early in life will also encourage young volunteers to continue on in the sector later in life.

Off the basketball court, Team M'Phasis has our youth help each other with homework, and we even have team events like bowling, laser tag, or a barbecue. These activities build relationships beyond basketball and establish a bond that our youth may not otherwise have. We have also had people come in and talk to our youth about college, honing in on their ambitions, and teaching them how to forge a successful career path. These opportunities, as well as community service projects that they participate in, create an atmosphere where our students are able to learn to team up with members of their community, ultimately teaching them that making those connections in the sector are valuable and meaningful.

How does your nonprofit organization engage youth?


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Click here to read "If you have to leave, why did you bother coming in the first place?" — where Laura Tan discusses the impact of volunteering with minors.

Comments

Hey DJ, I enjoyed reading your post. This sums up my experience with the YMCA as youth and participating in the various sports the organization offered. The coaches I played for taught my valuable lessons on and off the court.

Hey DJ. I spent my after school days growing up at the YMCA. As an adult I know offer my time to the local YMCA in LA. It is very rewarding. Thanks for posting. I'll be checking back in the future for more posts. PS-My specialty is basketball too. It really builds team philosophies for life.

Hello David,
I have really enjoyed reading this article. I too have been involved in a mentoring program and now I am a volunteer for one. I agree on all your strategies. I currently volunteer with Be a Leader Foundation, which mentors and helps students go to college and have seen that they incorporate all of your suggestions. . My favorite is the one the Move “Beyond the Court” because this really helps the youth grow. In Be a Leader we also establish relationship beyond the actual Monthly meetings. Be a Leader also has barbecues, football games and etc that gets them more involved with the organization. We also “Teach Them to Pass the Ball” by having them do icebreakers, and having them always work in teams. We also “Develop Court Vision” by having them believe that they are leaders and that they are already on the path to success. Another aspect that I believe that would help them is “Accepting team successes and Failures”. When you play a game we sometimes loose and sometimes win. We have to teach these students to learn how to accept failure and move on. We also need to show them how to get over it and how to never give up.

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