Sometimes children's sporting events can be high-stress affairs. Pressure is placed on kids to perform and win, even at the early stages of learning the game.
That is about to change with the institution of Upward Basketball at First Baptist Church of Thomson. Organizers try to provide a laid back, low stress atmosphere for kids to enjoy their recreation time instead of worrying about winning and losing.
The basketball leagues for first through sixth grade boys and girls will start play in the First Baptist gym this January. No standings will be kept; every child will receive equal playing time, and younger teams will not even keep score.
It's all part of a growing effort to give children and parents faith-based alternatives for sports. And it's something so attractive to families, nearly 400,000 kids participated in Upward ministries last year alone.
"This is very different from the way recreation league ball is played," said First Baptist Youth Minister and League Coordinator David Lambert. "It's not meant to be a direct competition with them...This is purely a ministry, an outreach or a service by our church."
The Upward organization provides local churches across the globe with the equipment and organizational material to start leagues in several sports like soccer, basketball, flag football and cheerleading.
But the positive environment is what they say is important. Winning is downplayed while devotionals at practice and halftime of each game take center stage.
Gregg Wisecarver, manager of communications for Upward, said the organization focuses on three things: salvation, character and self-esteem. Upward feels that those three are key to fostering success in a child.
"We're committed to equipping believers to share the gospel of Jesus Christ through sports ministry," Mr. Wisecarver said. "Our main tag line is 'Every child is a winner.'"
To create a level playing field, kids of similar age and experience level will be playing each other. Coaches will place importance on participating instead of winning, and referees will explain calls so that the children learn from their mistakes.
"The referee acts as a coach on the court," Mr. Lambert said. "It's not a humiliating thing. It's actually an encouraging thing. It's about teaching them the skill of the game, and it's about building their self-esteem and their character. By downplaying the competition you increase the level of fun."
Several churches in Augusta currently have Upward Basketball programs and are pleased with the results they see. Stephanie Hydrick, a Warren Baptist recreation assistant said just over 200 kids participated in the program's first year. That expanded to more than 500 the following year.
"It's perfect for the children who have never played before," Ms. Hydrick said. "They are able to just have fun with it. The parents don't get out there and are ugly. The referees are easy on them."
Registration brochures will be available at First Baptist, area banks, the Board of Education office, and they may soon be available at each school. Early registration takes place until Oct. 11 for $30. Late registration runs until Oct. 21 and will be $40.
The cost of participating includes a reversible jersey, t-shirt, music CD, sports-themed New Testament, car magnet, Upward Basketball Winner magazine and individualized awards after every practice and game.
Evaluation nights will take place on Oct. 19 and 21 to evenly divide the teams. The first practices will take place the week of Nov. 8. All of the games will be played on eight consecutive Saturdays beginning Jan. 22.