For Sudbury high school teacher Kyleen Gray, kids should be playing sports for the sheer enjoyment of the game.
And for the last few years, she’s been helping kids – and parents – put the fun back into sports.
Gray runs Hoops and Spikes, a basketball and volleyball business that runs sport specific sessions, training, camps and tournaments for kids (and sometimes adults too), focussing on foundational instruction and giving players that extra boost of confidence to play the game or try out for a team.
But the true aim, Gray said, is to make sure the budding athletes are having fun.
“Playing sports is important,” Gray says, “but I don't know if it's always best for kids if it's as expensive and as serious as it is right now.”
At Hoops and Spikes, kids hit the court for games and training in small groups with coaches and instructors, minus the pressure or any expectation they’ll be signing up for elite leagues in the future.
To get Hoops and Spikes off the ground, Gray, who starred for the Nipissing Lakers’ varsity volleyball team in the late 90s and early 2000s, enlisted like-minded teachers, coaches, and varsity athletes to run the camps.
“All of our staff have a really good foundation in sport specific training,” Gray said. “We also are very focused on learning through gameplay.”
“With basketball and volleyball, especially at the young level…if you watch those games, one kid has the ball pretty much the whole time,” she said.
“So we try to construct our programming to take that concept away. We move them into game situations where they have to consistently engage with the ball and as a result get significantly more “touches” which is a key component in learning through playing. Our game play is focused on smaller numbers of players on smaller courts ( 1on1; 2on2; 3on3; 4on4).”
The end result: kids learn game fundamentals, and have a blast doing it.
And parents will be happy: Hoops and Spikes’ enrolment fees won’t break the bank.
The cost is $275 for the 4-day Christmas camp, and $250 for additional siblings to sign up. The camps run from December 19-22 at the Sudbury YMCA.
Gray knows what it’s like for parents whose kids play hockey – the endless competition, summer camps, tryout camps, extended training, weekend tournaments – can be a grind.
She’s no stranger to the demands of parents – her kids play volleyball, basketball and hockey at elite levels – but thinks Hoops and Spikes is a different sort of game environment: it provides not only physical literacy skills, but also a social experience for kids involved in different sports.
In short, kids get to be kids again.
“We've had kids coming to our sessions especially through COVID, who literally didn't talk,” she said. “But then you could see them grow, flourish, make some friends and gain some confidence through the safety of a small group atmosphere and gameplay.”
“That was really the idea we really tried to celebrate.”
Kids return to the Hoops and Spikes programming, Gray said, because of the social atmosphere, and to interact with people they normally wouldn't play with or compete against.
Once the kids have had a bit of training, and learn the rules of basketball or volleyball, they play in a tournament to cap off the Christmas camp. Gray said she then gives out medals, and “report cards” to show kids they’re improving, and outline the next steps they can take as they continue to play.
“It just gives them a little bit of confidence to do different things, to try something new,” she said. “And it’s all about lifelong physical literacy.”
Rising costs of sports keeping parents away
As the costs for sports camp increases across the province, and kids often get caught in a race to stay at the top of their class, Hoops and Spikes aims to give parents a happy middle ground.
Competition, without the competitive baggage.
“I really try to schedule our programming and provide opportunities for kids who maybe are not, quote unquote basketball or volleyball players to try these different sports, even if it's just for a day in one of our 3-on-3 or 4-on-4 tournaments.”
“It's very common to have, for example, a group of hockey boys register in a 4-on-4 volleyball tournament,” she said. “It's common that we have a group of volleyball girls register in a 3-on-3 basketball tournament, or a group of friends from soccer, or friends from the neighbourhood.”