Focusing Boys on Healthier Pursuits, YMCA Hits the Right Notes with STRIDE

A group of boys participate in the bi-annual STRIDE 5K run with their running buddies.

As hyper-competitiveness and distorted visions of masculinity increasingly are leading to social problems for boys ranging from over-aggressiveness and bullying to self-loathing and depression, navigating coming of age in this modern era requires different guidance than before.

Enter the YMCA of Greater Brandywine and its program to help address those concerns: STRIDE, standing for Success +Teamwork + Respect + Inspiration + Determination = Excellence in Character. It builds fun exercise and character-building initiative, with a twist.

As STRIDE reaches its fifth anniversary, it clearly has taken root not only in Chester County, but across the nation, where today thousands of boys – urban to rural – engage in the 10-week after-school program that seeks to bring out the best in each individual while instilling critical social skills and pride.

STRIDE cultivates self-improvement, self-confidence, group involvement, teamwork, relationship building, and community responsibility wrapped in fun forms of exercise, running, and cooperative games. The results have been stunning, said Denise L. Day, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Brandywine.

“Competition can be good, and it can be healthy, but it’s not necessary for every approach in life,” Day said. “But too often, that’s not the message our boys get, particularly when we frame discussions around success. 

“Through STRIDE, they can discover there are many routes to success, based on setting personal goals as well as supporting others in theirs,” she added. “The beauty of this program is that it helps boys to define themselves on values-based terms, not so much on what society says who they should be. And the response to that has been huge.”

A joint 5K event with Girls on the Run slated for June 4 at West Chester East High School demonstrates how far the program has come. From its start of barely a dozen or so boys, nearly 500 are expected to lace up their sneakers and head for personal bests at the 5K – while encouraging newfound friends, too.

All told, some 15 YMCAs across the country now run STRIDE programming, and the first non-Y facility is about to adopt the program, said Nate Robinson, who helped conceive the program.

The more people see and hear about STRIDE, the greater the potential it has to go even further, perhaps even becoming the international program that is Girls on the Run, Robinson said.

It’s certainly spreading, already in 15 communities nationwide, in places such as Mankato, Minn. and Wilmington, N.C., with new YMCAs and other community organizations calling for details.

After hearing about STRIDE at a national conference, YMCA of Metro Detroit’s Chief Operating Officer Scott Walters bounded home to jazz up Jacqueline Kippen, who coordinates youth running programs there.

Since starting with just 15 boys in 2013, Detroit’s program has ballooned to serving 500 boys this year.

“The boys in our program really benefit from the positive messages they receive about how to be a friend and striving for personal achievement,” Kippen said. “We address important issues with the girls, but the boys struggle with tougher pressure to fit into a certain image of manhood that does not allow them to be empathetic or caring.

“They always have to put up a front. We emphasize what it takes to be a whole human being,” she added. “This only gives boys an opportunity to express more than a macho exterior.”

Each 90-minute STRIDE session builds up to that larger goal through examining life lessons and the value of team cooperation. Through discussions, opening up honestly, boys are encouraged to ask and answer questions and to engage in activities that give those lessons meaning. Then, they run.

Under the guidance of volunteer coaches, participating boys strive toward improvement and excellence, each according to his skills and abilities.

“We teach and show boys how to be better and achieve more, and not to worry who is the fastest or most talented,” said Denise Day. “This isn’t a competition, and they don’t race.

“We encourage them to strive for and reach their best and enjoy the satisfaction and confidence that comes with that. That helps to build toward a better us.”

For details on participating or coaching, visit the STRIDE website.

Category: Youth Programs