It’s no secret that the people on staff here at the 14th Street Y are extremely dedicated and passionate about the work they’re doing for our community. As someone who doesn’t always have the opportunity to work directly with the people we serve, I do hear and enjoy the stories about my colleagues who do. One person in particular kept popping up in these stories—Coach Gil.
Coach Gil was kind enough to step away from a game of basketball in our gym to chat with me about his role here and offer insight into the benefits of sports as a source of empowerment and skill-building for children.
Tell me about yourself and how you got involved with the Youth Sports Program at the 14th Street Y?
Well, I’ve been here a very long time, 12-13 years. I’ve been doing youth sports since before I came here. I used to work for the Children’s Aid Society. I used to run one of their sites and ran their basketball program. I did a lot for that organization. I was there for four years before coming to the 14th Street Y. I went to school for it, always had a passion for teaching kids. If I can teach a kid, I can affect the future. The more we can influence children, the better we can make the world. That’s one of my passions.
We can teach children through sports—lessons that they may not learn at home, such as failure, how to react to failure and use it as a positive thing to drive you instead of something that’s negative. Because failure isn’t negative, it’s just a learning opportunity. I feel like sports is the best way to learn that. Sports is also the best way to learn how to work with people.
What youth sports classes do you work with?
I coach basketball here. I’ve been doing that for a long time, including the Girls Only, which is an ever-growing program that is doing so well.
I also do Flag Football, which starts in September and is about a 2-month program that’s very popular. It’s one of the programs that families really love and talk about. The fact that families talk about it all year and it’s only offered once a year really tells us about the quality of the youth sports programs that we offer.
What’s your youth sports philosophy?
Have fun—it’ a big thing. But I’d say it’s to have fun and every time we fail, it’s a chance to learn.
I feel that if you can incorporate those two things then you have an opportunity to have a great class, a great session with the kids.
Some kids will walk in and they don’t understand how to deal with failure. But once they learn and understand the fun that’s behind it. Thinking “okay I didn’t win this time, but I can win next time” or “I didn’t win this time, but I did better than I did last time.” The only goal we have is when you walk in, you’re better than you were. That’s all. Aside from those goal, we don’t put pressure on the children to be better than each other. We ask the kids to look to themselves and continue their journey in their sport. Everyone’s journey is different.
How old are the children you’re working with? What fundamental skill are they learning while having fun?
We range from about 4 years old all the way to about 14 years old.
They’re learning communication – one of the biggest things I try to work on. Even with the upset children who cry, after they’re done crying, I ask them to tell me what happened. The sooner a child can truly communicate how they feel, the sooner they can get what they actually want. Communication is big because if you don’t understand how to communicate, you can’t be part of a team. So that’s number one.
We also work on their listening skills. If we do a water break, for example, I give them three simple tasks: put your ball away, get water, and come back to the line. And if they do other things, I ask them “what are the three things”—so let’s do those three things. They start to learn that if you do something, you get something in return. Things aren’t just given, they’re earned.
February is Heart Health Month – which focuses on raising awareness about heart health and aims to educate Americans on ways to lower the risk of developing heart disease. Half of all Americans have at least one top three risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. More information here.
Considering nearly 1 in 6 children ages 2 – 19 has obesity, a contributor to high cholesterol, do you have any recommendations for parents and caregivers who want to keep their kids active and healthy?
If I had to make a suggestion to parents—be active with their children, physically active with them. Let’s not sit down and watch TV. I’m a big fan of video games, and have little kids in my family. We play video games, but then we play football, basketball, and baseball. When kids see you enjoy something, they’ll enjoy it.
My advice is to introduce your children to what you enjoy doing, in terms of physical activities. If you enjoy yoga, do some simplified yoga with your child. If you enjoy basketball, then play something fun with them, like basketball or soccer. That energy you have when you enjoy doing something, children feed off it. They feel that energy coming from a parental figure or instructor, and they want to be part of it. If they feel positive energy, they want to be part of that. They’ll not only want to do it this once, but continue to do it and make a habit of it in their lives.
Getting active is difficult, not only for kids, but adults. But once you get active and enjoy it, you tend to stay active.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
I think here, in our Youth Sports Program, we focus on how sports can make the person, not how the person can make the sport. We’re building character, we’re here making the person better and we use sports as the conduit. We don’t put pressure on the child to be the next Stephen Curry or LeBron James, that’s not what they’re here for. We’re here to make the next leaders of the world, the next generation to make positive change and move the world and make it better for themselves, and their kids, and so forth. That’s what we use our sports program for—to move the world forward. And if we get a great player out of it, so be it, but we’re trying to make great people. That’s our number goal here, to give them that self-confidence to stand up for what’s right and be a good person.
**WINTER SPORTS SPECIAL**
Limited time offer.
Sign Up for a FREE TRIAL CLASS for the Week of February 25 ONLY.
Choose from a variety of basketball clinics and classes, including girls-only hoops, as well as non-contact flag football (in collaboration with the NFL’s Youth Flag Football League), soccer, tennis, tumbling and gymnastics, ballet, and a groovin’ dance and movement class for four- and five-year olds.
Kids of all ages and talent levels grow their self-esteem in the 14th Street Y’s sports and league programs, and they build teamwork, integrity and leadership skills along the way.LEARN MORE
If your child is enrolled in our After School Program, you may be eligible for special Youth Sports rates. Inquire at the Service Desk.