The children will inherit the world. This is a bit of a corny truism; nevertheless, it is also a profound truth about the human condition, one that invests adults with a lot of responsibility.

We will shape the kind of leaders our children will someday become. For a lot of parents, that means playing an active role in determining kids’ choices and behavior. Nowhere is that clearer than in the realm of youth sports. Go to any game, and you’ll see parents getting worked up as they cheer and shout directions from the sidelines. Unfortunately, that kind of control often leaves kids disenchanted and with little room to experience their own autonomous growth.

The result? By the time they reach the age of 13, 70 percent of youth athletes will have dropped out of sports, most citing parental pressure as their number one reason for quitting.

Macky Bergman, (Episode 19 of JumpbyDesign), is working hard to change all that. He played basketball at the University of Rochester, helping his team reach NCAA Division III Final Four before working as the head assistant trainer at Fairfield, New Jersey’s Sports University. In 2010, he co-founded Steady Buckets a youth basketball program that began as a single YMCA class and now serves 2,000 kids from 172 different zip codes in the five boroughs of New York City.

Why Develop a Basketball Youth Program?

Growing up in Manhattan and wanting to develop the skills he would need to play college ball, Bergman was dissatisfied with the lack of good basketball instruction available. He noticed that there were only two well-developed niches for the sport — intensive coaching for kids who wanted to become pros and rec programs that offered no disciplined skills training.

Steady Buckets fills the gap between those two positions. Bergman’s program is a place where kids can get real skills development to advance as serious players and also where they can come to understand team play, build relationships, have fun, and evolve into resilient, hardworking, and empathetic future leaders.

“But why use basketball as the vehicle to teach kids life lessons?” we wanted to know.

“Basketball is the perfect sport for that,” Bergman points out. “It’s a team sport, but the focus is on the individual. The little things that no one notices or gives a player credit for are what make you successful.” It also has an important ethical dimension, Bergman notes: “You can tell a lot about someone’s character by how they play the game.”

What I observed at Steady Buckets is how much Bergman’s own character plays an influential role in the program’s success.

In 2010, when the program began, they were asking the kids who could afford it to pay $20 a session to help cover expenses but Bergman soon realized that when it came time to ask the paying kids for their envelopes it would end with the kids split into two groups. To erase the socioeconomic barriers he saw divide the kids; Bergman then made the program free for all kids. He has since relied on donations online to keep the program going, adding; “In our program, everyone is equal”.

What Are the Most Important Principles You Strive to Impress?

There are five official “Macky Rules” at Steady Buckets:

1.    Improve, or strive to get better every day.

2.    Invest in failure. “Not being good is not a reason not to try,” Bergman insists.

3.   Outwork ’em. “The best players, hands down, are the ones who work the hardest.”

4.    Have fun.

5.    Make friends.

The program has grown by sticking to these core principals and paying attention to just what it means for kids to have fun playing sports. “A lot of youth sports are driven by parental leaders,” Bergman points out. “Our mission is to give ownership back to the kids.”

In order to do that, Steady Buckets has developed a truly innovative All Youth Basketball League, where kids are in charge of every aspect of the game. The older kids coach the younger ones. Kids are referees, and they keep score. “It’s more like a school play than a traditional sporting event,” Bergman says. “Parents are allowed to watch and videotape the performance on their smart phones. That’s it.”

Turning kids into their own agents for change puts them in a default leadership position because it lets them determine what they want and need. If they want to develop the skills to play at the next level, the program is equipped to meet that challenge. But Steady Buckets is also there for kids who just want to develop friendships, get fit, and learn how to work hard to meet a shared goal.

Under Bergman’s guidance, kids get to determine what their future is going to be, and they are afforded the resources needed to develop the skills that can get them there.

Coach Mackey (that’s what the kids call him) is one of the great young leaders in the New York City community. Support Steady Buckets!

Stephanie Jules

Author Stephanie Jules

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