When you’re young, it can be scary to try new things. When it comes to experimenting with new sports at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Elkhart County’s Elkhart Clubhouse, there’s an encouraging presence to help take away the fear.
Mike Hagen has been the athletic supervisor at the Club for about a year. He makes it his mission to get kids to move out of their comfort zone.
“I want to make sure no one is left out. There are kids who have never been part of sports before. If I can help them overcome their fear of learning a sports, that’s a success,” he said.
Hagen grew up in Chicago and spent seven summers working at the park department with recreation programs. In college, he worked for the youth center in Jasper County and then coached lacrosse at St. Joseph High School in South Bend for seven years. With that background working with young people, the Boys & Girls Club was a good fit.
“I saw the job post and thought this is perfect for me,” Hagen said. “I’m not sitting at a desk all day. I love working with the kids.”
He’s especially encouraged when he sees kids who are excited to take part in gym time each afternoon. It doesn’t always start out that way — especially when they’re not sure about a new sport.
“You can see in some of their faces they’re not sure they want to try. It’s great seeing the overall excitement as they learn and grow,” Hagen said. “I want to bring a different experience and let them see all the sports that are out there.”
To increase the chances they’ll participate, Hagen recruits members who are more comfortable to help.
“I use the kids who know what they’re doing to encourage the ones who are learning. We’ve all been at step one at some point in every sport. Seeing friends who are learning as well can be encouraging to others. They think, ‘If they can do it, so can I’,” he said.
Hagen also takes part in the Club’s mentoring program — working with kids who may need a little more encouragement or one-on-one attention.
“If they’re struggling with anything, they can get comfortable talking with you. What happens is the other kids see they are comfortable with me and then they’re more willing to reach out. That makes things easier overall.”
Hagen said it all has a ripple effect and that’s what he loves about the Club experience.
“Just seeing what we do as a whole organization to impact their lives — it’s incredible. There are some kids that need us now more than others, but I want them to know we are here for them no matter what.”