SANDY — Trina Beckstrand stands on a line in the gym of the Sandy Civic Center, directly across from her 5-year-old daughter, Ali. She throws a large ball to her daughter, who catches it gleefully.
Ali yells at her mother to pay attention — her mother was looking at her son Matthew, 3, who is supposed to be playing as well — and sends the ball flying right back to her. Matthew is lying on the floor a short distance away. Today he's tired, so he's a little stubborn.
Across the gym from the Beckstrands, Marci Katzenbach holds up a large Hula-Hoop while her son Zachary, 3, sends a Koosh ball sailing through it. Only a few weeks ago, Zachary's fear of sports prevented him from playing.
"My son was afraid of sports, and he's now enjoying them," Marci Katzenbach said. "He's gained more confidence and is excited."
The reason Zachary is now able to play sports is because of a program called the Start Smart Sports Development Program, which has only been offered in Sandy for a year. The program allows children such as Zachary, Ali, Matthew and others ages 3-7 to begin their sports career at a young age.
The basis of the program is to help children develop skills that will help them when they start participating in organized sports without the threat of competition. Participants sign up for a 4-6 week course that runs once a week for 45 minutes to an hour and costs $25. The cost covers a T-shirt, participation award and manual to help guide parents as they go through the program with their children.
Parents work one-on-one with their children at each of the weekly classes, helping them through a series of different stations. The basic sports skills class focuses on teaching skills such as kicking through cones or at a target, hitting a ball with a bat, catching, rolling a ball to a partner and throwing.
Specialized classes will teach children skills in one specific sport. Each week the activities get a little more challenging. A pre- and post-test of the children's skills helps parents document progress.
Sandy isn't the only city around the valley with the program. West Valley City has been offering it for five years now, and Riverton launched it this year.
Sandy currently offers four sessions of the program. The first session runs on Tuesdays from 10-11 a.m.; it began Oct. 4 and ends Nov. 8. The second session runs on Wednesdays from 6-7 p.m.; it began Oct. 5 and ends Nov. 9. The last two sessions run on Thursdays with one from 2-3 p.m. and the other from 6-7 p.m. Both classes began Oct. 6 and end Nov. 10. All sessions take place at the Sandy Civic Center at 440 E. 8680 South.
In January, Sandy will launch its Start Smart basketball program for children ages 3-5. The first session will run on Tuesdays from 10-11 a.m., beginning Jan. 10 and ending Feb. 14. The second session runs on Wednesdays from 6-7 p.m. and will begin Jan. 11 and end Feb. 15. The third session runs on Saturdays from 4-5 p.m., begins Jan. 14 and ends Feb. 18. The first session will be held at the Sandy Civic Center, while the second and third will be at Crescent View, located at 11150 S. and 300 East. The cost for the basketball session is $30.
Emma Crandall, recreation program coordinator for Sandy city, feels that one of the program's strengths is the parent involvement in it.
"Parents are there to teach their children skills like throwing, catching and hitting. Staff members are there to make sure the skills are taught correctly. We let parents teach their children in a supervised environment," she said.
Cindi Griswold, who is the facilitator for the Sandy program, likes the one-on-one time the program gives parents to be with their children.
"I love the program, not just because of the skills it teaches, but because it gives parents a chance to have one-on-one time with their children. I think they really grow from it," she said.
Parents enjoy it for the same reason.
"I have five kids, so it's nice to have some one-on-one time," said Michelle Larsen, speaking of the time she gets with son, 4-year-old Brandon.
Kari Child, recreation program coordinator for West Valley City, likes that the program's instructions don't get too complicated and that it requires busy parents to spend time with their children.
"It's really broken down into step by step. Each skill tells parents what to do and what to look for in teaching their children how to properly throw and catch," she said. "It puts pressure on parents because kids want to practice at home."
Beckstrand enjoys the time the program creates for her to simply play with her children.
"I think the program is good, because it gives us an hour to do nothing but play ball. We can do this together," she said. "That's the whole point of the program — we're not sending our children to a class; we're playing with them."
Crandall said one thing she has enjoyed while overseeing the program is watching the children figure out which hand is dominant, as many of them are not right- or left-handed yet. The program allows them an opportunity to try it both ways.
"I tell parents not to push either way but to let it happen naturally," she said. "It's enjoyable to watch that unfold. It's very interesting."
Griswold says she tries to emphasize to parents not to push their children if they can't do a certain skill. The kids are there to have fun, and although she wants them to go on to soccer or T-ball, she doesn't want parents to push their kids for that, she said.
The most rewarding thing for Crandall is interacting with the kids and watching them succeed. She also likes that the program is so flexible.
"The beauty of it is if one kid is ready to move up, they can, but if another child is not quite there yet, then they don't have to. It fits different levels," she said.
The response from the Sandy community has been very positive, and Crandall says the city gets more requests for the program all the time.
"It's a program that we want to continue," she said. "Parents want to put their kids in sports younger and younger. It's a well-designed program . . . . Sometimes in our day and age we forget that little ones need special attention. This program is good on so many levels."