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Sports in Society holds panel discussion Thursday at Northeastern University

Posted by Ryan Butler  September 20, 2013 11:31 AM

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Thursday's discussion included (left to right) moderator Ricardhy Grandolt, and panelists Becky Nyce, Amanda Smidt, Tracey Britton and Max Fripp. (Justin Rice / For the Boston Globe.)

The local youth sports development organization Sports in Society held a luncheon Thursday afternoon at The Northeastern University Faculty Club on Columbus Avenue.

The event was called: “Building a Positive Culture in Sport-Based Youth Development Organizations” and it focused on the organizational aspect of using sports for positive youth development throughout the city.

The panelists included Squashbusters program director Becky Nyce, City Year national manager of Alumni and Career Services Amanda Smidt, director of business development at Edgework Consulting Tracey Britton, and executive director of Playworks Massachusetts Max Fripp. It was also moderated by Sport in Society’s program manager, Ricardhy Grandoit.

Following lunch and panelist introductions, the event commenced with a seemingly simple question that in retrospect absolutely summed up the meaning of that particular Thursday afternoon: what does a positive culture look like?

“I’m going to give you three ways we measure culture at Playworks, and it’s not rocket science.” Fripp said. “One is high fives. Another is (the saying) good job, nice try, and the last is the game: rocks, paper scissors.”

Although at first these seemingly unlikely tools of cultural measurement sound somewhat elementary, Fripp explained his goals and practice, and how through his experience in the past it's worked across the board with both kids and adults.

“My call to action is that I think we have a unique moment of time here in Boston,” Fripp continued. “We can really work to redefine success, and redefine culture.”

But for Playworks Mass., who in the last five years has expanded from 14 to 30 Boston schools, their culture is facilitated and brought to life through the positive interactions between people, young and old alike.

And sometimes a positive interaction can be measured simply by a friendly high-five.

“If you can build a culture of kids and adults high fiving each other, it really fundamentally shifts things,” he said. “We live in a world that’s so hyper competitive that kids don’t hear ‘good job’ a lot. We also hear that the kids are saying good job, nice try it in the classroom now when others get an answer wrong.”

Britton also later expanded on the almost subconscious slapping hands gesture. She said, “If you walk into schools and see high-fives, you know culture is happening.”

The discussion then continued to focus on the efforts of each represented organization and their shared practices in creating that positive unified cultural front that’ll benefits both kids and adults.

“Squashbusters has actually spent an incredible amount of time looking at our culture,” Nyce said. “We know that it is the core thing that holds everything else together. So we’ve gone on building it with little bits and pieces at a time.”

Squashbusters, which was located nearby on Columbus Avenue, is a sport based after-school enrichment program that’s dedicated to improving the lives of Boston youth. Nyce then described how their own way of doing things works cohesively with the kids.

“We, for example, have a program choreography,” she said.

“Like someone knows what a dance looks like, we know all the movements during the day. We know where we want students to go and how. So they have a strong choreography of what it (the day) looks like. ”

City Year’s Smidt then furthermore emphasized the importance structure has on the children she’s worked with as well.

“In all of my youth work I learned that my favorite quote is: structure will set you free,” she said. “By setting kids up to know what to expect, you’re going to be doing them really well.“

This importance of establishing a sense of a welcoming environment to both parents and kids was an idea that bounced around the room endlessly as the panelists brainstormed various successes and best practices.

But they didn’t forget to leave out the parent’s roles in this process.

“The mindset is parents are equally participants as well,” Britton said. “In this, there needs to be room for creativity and room for cultural competency.”

For Squashbusters, Edgeworks, City Year and Playworks it seems like there’s no limit to just how far these organizations can go with their progressive ideologies.

By providing city youth with positivity and a welcoming environment, and for that matter culture, these organizations are taking steps to improving the lives of others.

“I commend the leaders in this room,” Sport in Society executive director Dan Lebowitz said. “It’s you that will change the lives of kids throughout the city. So for that, I thank you.”

Ryan M. Butler covers Boston Public school athletics. He can be reached at butler.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @butler_globe or @BPSspts.

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Several reporters, editors and correspondents contribute updates, news and features to the BPS Sports Blog:
  • Justin A. Rice -- A metro Detroit native, Rice is a Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) and Northeastern University graduate. Rice lives in the South End with his dog and wife, who unfortunately attended the University of Michigan ... his wife, that is. He curates the BPS Sports Blog and is always looking to write about city athletes with great stories. Have an idea? He can be reached at jrice.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.
  • Ryan Butler -- A Rhode Island native and avid Boston sports fan, Butler played basketball, baseball and football throughout his time in Barrington Public Schools. Now currently in his middler year at Northeastern University, he joins Boston.com as a correspondent for the site's BPS coverage. Have a story idea? Contact him at butler.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on his Twitter @butler_globe.
Also expect updates from Boston.com High School sports editor Zuri Berry and the Globe staff.