Feature Article - February 2012
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Bring On the Action!

Easy Steps to Introduce Action Sports to Your Community

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Line Up Mentors

Once you've got the venue and the group of kids ready to use it, you're almost there. The good news is that skateboarders and BMXers will never stand for an overly elaborate, organized structure of lessons and teams and tournaments. That's not what action sports culture is about. "You'll push them away if you over-program," Wixon said. "If you try to Little League it, you'll lose them quick."

Action sports are not a sports program in the same way a soccer or baseball league is a program, he said. And these differences can be a great boon for park districts and cities because once you build the venue and lay out the ground rules, you're mostly done. But the emphasis is on mostly.

"Anytime you build a facility and put in the investment, you don't want it to turn into Lord of the Flies," Wixon said. Although there's a fantastic element of self-taught creativity within action sports, as well as a communal, learn-from-each other spirit, "you can't expect kids to [completely] govern and police themselves," he added. "Skateboarding's most dangerous time is the first two weeks, when beginners are learning the fundamentals," he explained. "They don't know how to fall, and they don't know their ability level."

Really what's needed is an ever-so-slightly formalized mentoring program that can help the new kids get acclimated and familiar with the way a skatepark works, offer some key safety tips, and show them some basic moves and tricks (if they want to learn) before setting them free to grow and flourish at their own pace and in their own way. Having an adult or college-aged kid onsite makes parents feel more comfortable, too, noted Ohio Dreams' Travis.

But the hardest part of this scenario is finding the right mentors for the job. They have to be qualified skaters, Wixon said. They must have skills, and they must be authentically part of the action sports culture. Unfortunately, you won't just be able to get the director of recreation a skateboard and send him out there to do the job. Finding people who have those qualifications and also have the time and dedication to do this is a challenge. Local skateboard and bicycle shops may again be a good place to troll for possibilities, and you're not looking for someone available 40 hours a week. A few after-school hours on weekdays and perhaps a Saturday afternoon session is probably plenty.

"Maybe it's just someone on Saturdays from noon to 4," Travis said. "Just someone who kind of oversees things a little bit. You can't just build it and disappear," he said. "That's when you have problems—that's what gives action sports a bad name."