School’s out: City Parks Foundation offers free summer sports programs in parks across Brooklyn

kids in the Soccer program by City Parks Foundation
Nine parks in Brooklyn will feature sports programs.
Photo courtesy of City Parks Foundation

In the summer, parks come to life.

The City Parks Foundation, a nonprofit that activates parks and local youth through free sports, arts and education programs in 300 parks all over New York City, is starting its summer sports programs for youth this Wednesday, July 5. 

Young New Yorkers ages 8-17 can still sign up for free tennis, golf, track and field, “everyday play,” which includes different sports, activities and general fitness through a rotating schedule; and for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic, soccer. All of the equipment is provided.

Participating in sports is associated with lower rates of anxiety, depression and stress, and higher self-esteem and confidence, according to the National Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. As children practice sports frequently, health experts have noticed their psychological and emotional well-being tends to improve and their cognitive performance increases, leading to better grades at school overall. This can also lead to patterns of less substance abuse as they grow.

city parks foundation track and field
Programs take place at different parks all across Brooklyn, and cater to kids at all skill levels. Photo courtesy of City Parks Foundation

“There are so many life skills that are built and ingrained in kids through sports,” said Jonathan Gamberg, associate director of the foundation’s sports programs.

Through the tennis and golf programs, the foundation works with the United States Tennis Association, and the Metropolitan Golf Association, not-for-profit organizations that promote the growth of players from the grassroots to professional levels. Those associations provide curricula for instructors to help implement life skills, teamwork and sportsmanship in the practices.

Tennis participants — both beginners and more experienced players — meet twice weekly for basic instruction and weekly competitions. Youth interested in soccer will learn the basics of the sport through informal scrimmages and instruction.

The summer golf program transforms local neighborhood baseball fields into driving ranges and practice greens to introduce kids to the basic skills of the sport. The foundation puts down specialized hitting mats. Kids receive low-flight golf balls that have the same look and feel as a normal golf ball, but don’t travel quite as far. Portable putting tracks also come into play to practice short hits and flags marking targets in the outfield of the ball field letting the youth practice longer shots.

“We do a lot of different things to make it look and feel like kids are at an actual golf facility,” Gamberg said. “The accessories make it really fun and exciting for the kids to take part in.”

Some of the programs’ instructors are former participants, former athletes, college soccer players and track team members.

Different programs will take place at different parks all throughout the borough — Betsy Head Park, Marine Park, Thomas Jefferson Park, Kaiser Park and Highland Park are some where the foundation will work this summer.

“We are in pretty much every corner of the borough,” said Gamberg. “From Bay Ridge to Bed-Stuy, Sunset Park, Prospect, Fort Green and many more.”

To navigate environmental issues such as the most recent air quality hazards, the foundation takes guidance from the city as to whether or not programs need to be canceled or modified to guarantee the safety of their staff, participants and parents.

“We’ll be monitoring it closely throughout the summer,” said Gamberg.

cityparks foundation soccer players
Participating in sports is known to decrease stress and depression in young people while increasing self-esteem. Photo courtesy of City Parks Foundation

All programs meet two mornings per week for an hour or 90 minutes, and kids can take part in more than one sport per day.

“We don’t see people ever really being turned away,” said Gamberg. “We offer enough locations throughout the city where, where people have an opportunity to participate.”

The foundation reaches over 275,000 people each year, and 8,000 kids have already signed up for summer programs in 2023. 

“For many of these kids, this is their first real opportunity to try sports like tennis or golf,” said Gamberg. “They have the opportunity to progress through our programs. One of the things that makes us somewhat unique is that we offer progressively more challenging levels of programs.”

The funding comes from a variety of different private streams from corporate partners, individuals, nonprofit organizations, and some City Council Members and state legislators. 

Free Summer Play sports programming for youth in parks across all five boroughs starts on July 5.