Characteristics of a Quality Sport-Based Youth Development Programs
By Diana S. Cutaia
The following paragraph has come to be the most widely accepted definition of sports-based youth development (SBYD) since the term first began to appear in the early 2000s.
Sports-based youth development is a methodology that uses sports to provide the supports and opportunities youth need to be healthy contributing citizens now and as adults. A sports-based youth development program offers youth an experience in which they learn and master sports skills along with life and leadership skills in a safe, fun, supportive, and challenging environment. This experience involves caring relationships; facilitated learning, experiential learning, and vigorous physical activity
Early discussions of SBYD focused on sport being a hook to engage young people in programs that supported positive youth development. Yet, what was unclear in those discussions was the myriad of ways that idea was put into practice. Many programs latched onto the definition and asserted that they, indeed, were engaged in SBYD, but it is clear that as more research is being done in this area, many organizations are finding that they must change their structure and/or curriculums to truly confirm with a SBYD framework. In a 2007 article Dr. Gil Noam and Dr. Daniel Perkins defined the main characteristics of a quality SBYD program. Intentionality was key to ensuring that positive outcomes were achieved for young people in sport but this was achieved through the presence of 13 components listed below.
1. Physical and psychological safety – Safe places to play are very important, as many of the youth who come to our programs have experienced significant trauma. Reducing the triggers for those traumas or the potential for new exposure is critical to the development of the child. Having playing facilities that are free from hazards is a simple way to meet this need. Training staff on positive youth engagement strategies, and having clear policies related to the emotional well-being of your participants can reduce potential for any issues that may arise.
2. Appropriate structure – As with any organization it is important that there is clarity in all areas. Without proper structure there tends to be inconsistency with rule enforcement, progression of activities, skills development and engagement. Organizations should strive to have a clear structure, with polices that are consistency enforced and disseminated. They should ensure that coaches are following a prescribed curriculum that is developmentally appropriate and focused on the overall well-being of the child first.
3. Supportive relationships – It is critical that youth are provided opportunities to build relationships with caring adults. Organizations should ensure that coaches spend time getting to know their athletes, building trust with them and positively engaging them.
4. Opportunities to belong – Participation in sport can provide the context for young people to feel as though they belong if the environment fosters social connections and crates spaces where diverse connections can be made. So often even within teams youth tend to group together based on common cultures, interests or personal characteristics. Organizations should try to have events and activities that allow the youth to connect with others that they might not normally connect with to reinforce the feeling of belonging.
5. Positive social norms – The culture that an organization supports can reinforce positive social norms and reduce social alienation and allow for improve social skills.  Some simple ways to do this is to provide opportunities for your athletes recognize and be recognized for good sportsmanship and empathetic behavior. Additionally, athletes should be given some ownership of the learning process and given a chance to work through tasks and skills with their peers.
6. Support for efficacy and mattering – Programs who under stand these two concepts spend less time trying to create opportunities for athletes to prove their abilities and more time focused on helping them improve their skills.They recognize that youth need to feel like they are valued members of their communities and that they, indeed, matter. Simple application is providing them with community service opportunities that emphasize to them how they can contribute to their community with the support of their teammates.
7. Opportunities for skill building – All too often sport-based programs spend a lot of effort teaching sport skills, with the focus being on game performance. A quality program will spend equal parts developing skills like leadership, goal setting, problems solving and effective communication in addition to helping athletes’ master sport specific skills. These life lessons should be imbedded in the curriculum just as the acquisition of sports skills are. Emphasize should be placed on the process of learning not the outcome. Limited focus on winning can help move coaches toward a more holistic approach to skill building.
8. Opportunities to foster cultural competency – Its valuable for program to recognize the diversity within and around their programs. By being sensitive to customs, foods, and music of the various cultures programs models the value of inclusion and acceptance. Athletes should be provided with opportunities to engage with those who share different backgrounds and experiences through participation in the program as well as community events.
9. Active learning – Learning happens in multiple ways and athletes should be engaged in as many diverse strategies as possible. Keeping a journal or having time to reflect on behavior, skills, or performance can be a valuable and effective tool. Interaction and engagement are central to active learning. Organizations should provide coaches with different activities that teach the same skill in various ways to keep lessons exciting and relevant to all learning styles.
10. Opportunities for recognition - Many programs spend time at the end of a season recognizing a few players who excelled or improved skills on the playing field. Quality programs focus more on consistent recognition that authentically values the effort, contributions, improvements, and positive behavior of each athlete. Genuine recognition is going beyond the “good job” and finding ways to personalize and detail the praise.
11. Strength based focus – Coaches should look at what skills the athlete has and use those as a baseline. Coaches should be trained to point out to an athlete what they are doing correctly and then what they can do to improve. They should be allowed opportunities to take risks and challenge themselves without fear of harsh critique or rebuke.
12. Ecological and holistically programs – Coaches need to recognize that their athletes are young people first who engage in athletics; it is not, however, what solely defines them. This is an important distinction because it reframes for a coach that the primary role they have is support the development of that young person beyond just their sport skills. Organizations should spend time in staff development to talk about the experiences that young people have beyond just their sport participation.
13. Integration of family, school and community efforts – Programs that coordinate efforts and communicate regularly with an athlete’s school, community or family are better able to ensure positive youth development outcomes. Organizations can hold weekly meetings, organize joint events or attend school or community events. Additionally, many programs use the expectations of the school setting as a baseline in their program to ensure a clear and consistent message across different venues.
 Daniel F. Perkins and Gil G. Noam. “Characteristic of Sports-Based Youth Development.” New Directions for Youth Development Volume 2007 Issue 115, Pages 79
 Daniel F. Perkins and Gil G. Noam. “Characteristic of Sports-Based Youth Development.” New Directions for Youth Development Volume 2007 Issue 115, Pages 75 – 84