Youth sports: YMCA day camp introduces kids to new things
When you’ve sent your kids to the YMCA day camp, you’ve opened them up to a world of activity.
“We never turn the TV on here,” says director Kelli Schmitz, who is in the midst of her second year leading the program.
On Monday of this week, Schmitz and her assistants Tiffany Gehl and Morgan Johnson took dozens of kids between grades kindergarten and fifth through basketball drills. They began by lining up on opposite rows and passing the balls. “I’m going to step with my left foot and pass with my right,” encouraged Gehl.
Then they tried bounce passing, followed by dribbling with one hand while attempting to knock the ball away from their neighbor with their free hand.
Finally, kids formed a row in front of a regulation basket and took shots. Some of the younger ones couldn’t push the ball even halfway to the hoop. But it was fun anyway.
Basketball skills. Soccer skills. Softball skills. Volleyball. The sports are widely covered at the YMCA day camp. Johnson is a hockey player, so that sport is obviously a part of the smorgasbord. And there’s a time for games, a time for crafts. The kids start journals. They have a reading period. And there is time for swimming every day.
No one is under the illusion that by introducing children to sports at a young age, they’re all going to be star athletes. But the activities produce a variety of useful experiences that can stay with them for life.
“We try to spark the interest early. If they like it early, then they’re more likely to want to do it later in life,” said Schmitz. “They really learn off one another. We like to use the older kids as leaders and build their leadership skills early-on.”
On Monday, the day campers were fortunate to have Gehl instructing them patiently in basketball activities. A few months ago, the Fulda High School graduate completed her second year at Minnesota West Technical and Community College where she earned NJCAA and WBCA All-American honors. The 5-11 Gehl, who never scored 1,000 points during her high school career, accomplished the feat in two years at West and finished up as the school’s all-time leading point getter.
Gehl, who is set to continue her basketball career at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall where she plans to study exercise science in preparation for a career in physical therapy, was told she’ll post up less at Marshall and handle the ball more.
“I’ll still get to drive a lot, which is what I want to do,” she said.
At West, Gehl was a blur with her long strides to the basket, but at Southwest she’ll likely do more outside shooting. Coaches want her to handle the ball more as a guard, and to vary her speeds — to switch quickly from slow to explosive.
The ever-humble Gehl admitted that even as a sophomore at Minnesota West, she wasn’t sure she was good enough to play Division II basketball at the next level. But at West she matured quickly. She got physically stronger, too.
Until she leaves to begin her new college experiences in mid-August, Gehl is focused on imparting wisdom on impressionable young minds at the local YMCA. “I’d like them to learn good sportsmanship and how to win and lose gracefully. A lot of them need to learn it at this age,” she said.
Who knows how many local and area sports stars will have been inspired at the day camp. Not that that’s the most important thing, of course. Exercise and activity is its own reward for young people, and if there are All-Americans running loose on the YMCA gym floor, it’s impossible to spot it yet.
“We like to get their hands on it. The skills come later,” said Schmitz. “A lot of times, a lot of these sports, they don’t get to see at home.”