Brian Handell is the Program Director at Kids of Summer Sports. His brother, Michael, started KOS in 2002 as a baseball clinic in NYC’s Riverside Park. The program has since expanded to offer year-round baseball and basketball programs, its summer day camp in Riverside Park, after school, weekend leagues and clinics, birthday parties and private lessons.
Brian was born and raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and grew up playing most sports that were offered in the neighborhood– West Side Little League, AYSO soccer, and Safe Haven Basketball. He attended PS 87, the Science Museum School at IS 44 and then Beacon High School where he played varsity soccer and baseball. Brian then attended the University of Delaware where he earned a spot on the Division I Men’s Soccer team as a walk-on.
After graduating with a sociology degree Brian served as an investigator for the New York Civilian Complaint Review Board where he investigated police misconduct allegations. Brian always knew his heart and soul was in coaching and joined his brother (Michael) full-time as the Program Director/Assistant Director of Kids of Summer.
Tell us about Kids of Summer and the programs it offers.
Kids of Summer started in the Summer of 2002 as a six-week summer baseball clinic in Riverside Park on two small baseball fields near the Boat Basin on West 79th Street. The goal was to offer NYC children and families access to quality, fun, affordable and local baseball instruction in the summer months.
Although we started with just a handful of campers that first year, with the growing support of the Upper West Side community, enrollment continued to grow year after year. Today, KOS is a year-round business that trains over 800 children in baseball, basketball, and flag football programming. Our programs are taught by some of the most experienced, friendly, and fun coaches around, many of whom have former professional playing experience.
Even though KOS has grown significantly over the years, we remain committed to our original goal of providing fun, quality, and affordable athletic programming for the Upper West Side community and beyond.
You played Division I soccer. What did it take for you to get to that level? Was it harder coming out of NYC?
Growing up, I had no idea that I would one day go on to play at the Division I level. Without a doubt, constantly competing against my older brother growing up in everything from one-on-one basketball in our bedroom to ping pong lit a competitive fire in me to play sports at the highest level.
When I got to high school and began playing, my confidence continued to grow. In my senior year at Beacon High School, I went led New York City in total points (combined goals and assists, 25 goals and 10 assists). In addition to playing for my school team, I played travel soccer for Manhattan Soccer Club. Our club team was very talented and consisted of kids from around the globe. The highlight of my club soccer experience was competing in an international soccer tournament in Liverpool, England where we finished as runners up.
I do believe that coming out of New York City made it more difficult to get to the Division I level because geographically the Northeast prohibits year round outdoor training, but with that being said my intensity to compete combined with a genuine love for the game of soccer propelled me to the Division I collegiate level.
What do you tell parents who are convinced their kids will play high level college athletics?
I would tell parents that natural ability alone will not get their child to the collegiate level. Their kid (not simply the parents) must have a will to learn and get better. I cannot stress enough how having a humble desire to improve-regardless of how dominant a kid may be at the travel level or high school level, will be to getting to the next level. I have seen countless examples of kids I grew up with who had all the talent in the world, but whose playing careers fizzled out because they either got too cocky to improve their craft, or simply lost the will to get better each and everyday.
Lastly, I would say to parents that you cannot will your child to play at a high level. While you can show and teach your child what strong work ethic looks like, the competitive fire to get better and be their very best must come from within them.
What do you look for when you hire a coach to work with kids?
Their are some subtle differences in coaching skills we look for in regards to the age of the campers each coach will be serving. With that being said, all of our coaches need to have a genuine love for the game they are coaching. We look for coaches who can exude the love for the game because their excitement in teaching translates into camper excitement to be learning and playing. Secondly, all of our coaches need to be excellent communicators and listeners.
Being a coach or teacher is not an easy job, but effective and concise communication and listening skills go a long way to managing a group of children and translating a coach’s expert knowledge into tangible camper learning. Lastly, we look for coaches that combine a working technical knowledge of their sport with a supreme work ethic. The camp season is often long and very hot, but our coaches come ready to teach each and everyday as if it is the very first day.
How has Kids of Summer Sports camps evolved to meet the changing needs of the families it serves.
When we started KOS we knew that the needs of our customers would change. This is why we expanded our programming from just baseball to both boys and girls basketball, and flag football. In addition, KOS provides scholarship opportunities for those families in need as well as transportation options to and from camp.
How has the landscape of youth sports in NYC changed/evolved over that time?
For me one of the biggest difference is seeing a greater need for more technical training. When my brother and I grew up on the Upper West Side, all of our coaches were parent volunteers who were all fantastic people, but who did not have the knowledge we were looking for to truly take our game to the next level. We have gone from that to offering children instruction from former Major League ball players who have themselves been coached by the best in the world.
Secondly, I have seen the landscape of youth sports get increasingly more competitive. When we grew up, there were a limited number of options for travel teams for the elite player. Fast forward to today and you have an extremely competitive market for travel sports all over New York City and the rest of the country. With this being said, we want to make sure that there remain options for children of all ability levels to truly enjoy youth athletics so the joy of the game is not lost in an increasingly cutthroat youth sports landscape.
What is special/different about Kids of Summer Camps?
What is unique about KOS is that we are able to serve the needs of the player who is just beginning or the player that is a star on a travel team. Our coaches are able to tailor and differentiate their instruction to players of all abilities, backgrounds, and levels of experience and still make the game fun for each and every camper. I believe this is no small achievement as each and every camper is different and thus has different needs.
You must have lots of great stories from your years working with kids. Tell us about one that inspired you.
It actually involves a former teammate of mine from my club soccer team. His name was Ragui and his family was from Kenya. His father spoke out against a corrupt government and was actually captured and physically tortured. He and his family eventually escaped and moved to New York City. To make a long story short, before we knew one another, my father ended up sitting next to Ragui’s father at a high school soccer game in which we were playing against one another in Riverside Park. They got to talking and my father invited Ragui for a tryout with our club team. Ragui easily made the team and went on to become our best player and we became lifelong friends to this day. The power of sports can transcend and unite people from all corners of the globe.
What was the best advice you got from a coach? Keep it simple.
What is your most treasured sports possession? My High School soccer jersey.
Mets or Yankees? Yanks all the way
Giants or Jets? G-Men
Knicks or Nets? Knicks unfortunately
Rangers, Devils or Islanders? Rangers
Red Bulls? NYCFC? Liverpool
What is your favorite sports venue in New York City and why?
Has to be Madison Square Garden. My dad, who has been a Knicks and Rangers season ticket holder since 1972, took my brother and I to so many memorable games at MSG. We only had two tickets, but the garden had a policy that kids 6 and under could get in and sit on a lap, so he would pick me up and carry me in to games even though I was far too old to be getting in this way.
Favorite sports book? The Yankee Years
Favorite sports movie? Tough one– probably Field of Dreams and Rudy.
Best sports memory? Winning back to back PSAL baseball championships at Beacon High School.
To learn more about Kids of Summer Sports visit www.kidsofsummernyc.comSee more New York Sports Connection articles
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