“Kids love to compete and meet expectations,” Stevens said. “Today so much of it is us taking the competition, the scoreboard, out of things and I feel like when we do a shooting contest or we do a dribbling contest and we make it competitive, the kids seem to enjoy it a lot more. I don’t agree with taking the scoreboard or the competition in general out of sports. I think it’s a lot more fun of an environment with the competition. You have to do it fair and in a way that kids don’t get discouraged, but competition rules sports for a reason.”
A driving force behind the level of competition is the expectations a coach sets for his players, which Stevens said was another essential factor to getting the most from kids.
“One thing I learned was to set the expectations high. You get what you tolerate. Kids will do enough for what you expect. That’s the biggest thing with kids,” he said. “Whether players or students, if you expect more out of them they’re going to deliver. You have to respect the kids and the different backgrounds that kids come from.”
Stevens, who coaches the fourth grade Ballers basketball team at the Boys and Girls Club, also said that aside from the competition aspect it is crucial to make sure the kids are kids.
“It’s not always about learning the skill or whatever else,” Stevens said. “It’s important to get the kids in situations where it may be an overnight trip or a van ride to a game, just a social environment. When I was growing up, I used to go to the park or the gym and I would just play basketball with my friends. It was social as well as us just playing. Now when kids start sports, they don’t do a sport without their parent or coach there, too. Everything is a structured event and if everything is that way, sometimes that fun can be taken out of it. So you just have to find ways, whether goofing around in the van or in the hotel or taking them out to eat, to not make it so structured and give that environment of just rolling the ball out and letting them figure it out. I want them to take control like what we used to have to do.
“So much of that social portion is taken out of sports because there’s always a coach present and the coach handles all of that stuff so the kids don’t handle it between themselves. I like to put them in those situations where they have to handle it themselves. The main thing that I want do is make sure they have fun with a purpose. We try to make everything fun. Especially with kids starting sports so young and really getting involved so much almost six or seven days a week, I think they lose a lot of that fun. My goal is to have them learn so we have a purpose, but we are going to have fun while we are doing it to make sure that the kids have a positive experience.”
It is this social interaction of sports that Stevens said offers so much to children.
“I just think that the benefits of team sports in particular are so great as far as not just physically but socially,” Stevens said. “You may really get along with your coach or you may not. You may deal with players that come from different backgrounds and play different styles and just having to get along. There are so many correlations with team sports and life. I just feel that it is so important to give that experience of playing team sports.”
Stevens, who has spent the past four years with the BGCTM, said that the Ballers program, along with all of the programs at the club, are a great outlet for local kids to gain this involvement with other children they normally would not interact with.
“The beautiful thing about our Ballers program is we don’t exclude any kid for any reason. There’s a lot of programs that if you don’t have the money to play, you can’t come in and play, but this program like all of our programs at the Boys and Girls Club, we take every kid,” Stevens said. “We get a real diverse population down here and it’s fun to see that it doesn’t matter what background they come from, when they get on the basketball court there’s that one common thing that links them all together. It’s pretty amazing to see all the different backgrounds and see the kids make friends with each other.”
Before becoming the Director of Operations at the BGCTM, Stevens coached for over a decade with the basketball programs at Bishop Manogue and Reed, his alma mater. It is this passion for providing a setting for kids to enjoy themselves in and thrive in that Stevens loves about his job, whether with the Miners and Raiders, or with the Ballers today.
“It is great,” Stevens said. “We put in a lot of hard work and a lot of hours for the kids and get a lot rewards from it. I get to see a lot of young people now who played for me and where they’re at in life. Some of them are coaching and some of them are being real successful in their work and everything else, so that’s great. I can’t say there’s one thing I’d trade back or doing anything differently for. I love what I’m doing now. I love working with my own boys. I feel grateful to work in this environment. It is always fun to see the kids rise to the occasion and do great things. For me it’s about looking at the growth of the kids.
“I always tell kids I was glad to be a part of it but they are the ones that put in all the hard work. They’re the ones that made themselves successful. They’re the ones that took advantage of the opportunities that they had and not all kids do that. It’s neat to see the ones that do and the ones that reap the benefits from it.”