Are sports different today from when you were a kid? Danny Bernstein thinks so. Bernstein, who lives in Scarsdale with his wife, a pediatrician in Mount Vernon, and their two children, ages 11 and 8, recently left his family’s three-generation sleepwear business to found Backyard Sports, a White Plains-based athletic program for kids 4-14. His intention is “to change the dynamic in the culture of sports, and to bring it back to its roots.”
Based on the premise that our culture is more competitive and our pace of life much faster, Backyard Sports aims to recreate the positive sports atmosphere Bernstein enjoyed in his own youth, and to shift focus back to the joy of the experience. “I took a leap of faith,” he explains.
While coaching and attending his own children’s sporting events over the past eight years, Bernstein noticed a trend. “I heard the parents and coaches talking, but not the kids,” he says, adding that kids have become “participants in adult controlled programs.” Backyard Sports aims at giving the “power of play” back to kids.
Through eight-week sessions of basketball in the fall and soccer in the winter — the off-seasons for each sport — Bernstein and his staff focus on the emotional development of the child athlete in addition to teaching the kids sports skills. They create ways for all children to experience success. For example, in one basketball drill, kids can choose to shoot a basketball at a six-foot, eight-foot, or 10-foot basket. Bernstein reports that kids go to the basket where they feel most comfortable; those seeking a challenge will try to 10-foot basket. “In this exercise, everybody is succeeding,” he maintains.
Coaches help to change children’s definitions of success. Instead of just getting a goal or a basket, kids gain points for learning proper skills. If a player communicates with her teammate, for instance, or sets a screen in basketball, she gains a point. At the end of the game, it is not just about the score, but about the points the kids make. “They know the correct way to play because they are rewarded for it,” Bernstein says.
Backyard Sports creates an environment where players can gain confidence, which in turn, Bernstein believes, leads to improved play. Last fall, on Friday afternoons, the coaches created a kids-only pick-up basketball game (with coach supervision), to give the young players the opportunity to grow by playing and communicating with one another without the direction or interference of adults.
For younger children, there are clinics and instruction with age-appropriate game play; equipment is often modified to teach skills. For fourth-graders and older, clinics and instruction are followed by coached games with referees.
Bernstein has been an athlete throughout his life, and still plays soccer on Saturday mornings. As a freshman at Amherst College, although he was “too short and not good enough to play” on the soccer team, he was not cut by the coaches. This (and a six-inch growth spurt) led to a great opportunity, and by his senior year, he was the captain of the varsity team. Bernstein believes that today, cutting takes place at much younger ages, and as a result, kids’ sports teams have become more stratified than classrooms.
Like Bernstein, the coaches at Backyard Sports are well experienced and typically, the lead coaches are teachers with their advanced education degrees. “Their responsibility is to plant seeds for the future,” says Bernstein, who is currently working towards his Master’s in physical education at
Enrollment has nearly doubled since the program’s inception and now boasts 110 kids who range in ability from beginner on up. They began playing at SUNY Purchase and have spread to fields in Mt. Vernon and New Rochelle. In the future, Bernstein hopes to expand to New Jersey, Connecticut, and Long Island. This spring, he plans to introduce a program for children with special needs, and down the line, he hopes to add baseball to his roster.
“We build a love of the game that they will have for the rest of their lives,” he says.
Prices range from $375-$450 per 8-week session. For more information, call (914) 304-4052 or visit www.byardsports.com.