As Above and Beyond the Playground (ABP) gears up for the 2022 second semester session, staff are working on a plan to make the program even more relevant to athletes. Director Deonte Tatum is especially interested in helping students achieve on and off the court through added flexibility in programming.
“Does a student want to play at the collegiate level? We are skill and development focused. We are helping them develop the skills they need in their sport and in the classroom. We have a plan in place for each student. If a student’s dream is to play college athletics, we know what they need,” Tatum says.
One example is that a student may develop a personal plan to include 24 hours a month to work on athletics and academics. Depending on the individual needs of that student, half of the time may be spent on academic advancement and the other half may be used to focus on athletics with a trainer.
“When traveling with my youth teams this summer, we weren’t playing at that highest level of competition. But a lot of my kids wanted to play at a higher level and there is a certain amount of commitment necessary for that to happen. We have coaches who have played professional sports and former student athletes themselves who have had success. We are covering a lot of bases where we can add so much insight to the young people of Above and Beyond the Playground,” Tatum emphasizes.
Flexibility will be key in the coming year. In addition to elite level basketball training, youth volleyball will be added in February to foster skills needed to compete at the state level. Another area to consider will be additional hours, which may include later evenings and Saturdays if there is enough interest.
Tatum realized the need to expand the current program to include volleyball. He met several young women over the last month who wanted to play but hadn’t had the proper training. He says there is a need to adequately compete as students in the suburbs play club volleyball at a younger age. Through training and development, he wants to provide the fundamentals of the sport and show them opportunities that exist for volleyball.
“We spent a summer developing the athletes we have - getting them bigger, faster, stronger….now it’s been a full year getting them ready. We are moving kids higher academically and in their particular sport.”
All students in ABP last year are now playing at the varsity level in high school. By providing the opportunity to focus on grades and improve athletic performance, these students are the proof that the program works as designed.
In addition to academic and athletic support, there is a family dynamic in ABP that encourages students to hang out and talk while supporting one another. Lifelong bonds are established to stand by students now and through the years.
“We are committed to the whole journey of the individual person. I think that’s what makes our organization unique and yet students are still very, very competitive in their chosen sport,” he adds.
“If you haven’t had exposure to someone with the level of experience our staff has, it’s kind of hard to wade through high school sports. Our coaches have had good and bad experiences and can help students mature. We get it! That is why we are pushing so hard to develop people and not just players. You just don’t get that in every youth organization - people who are committed to the student first,” he says.