Playing Like a Champion Not Just About Winning

The Diocese of Brooklyn is lucky to house one of the fastest-growing and most well-organized Catholic Youth Organizations (CYO) in the country.

CYO Director Rob Caldera recently visited the campus of the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Ind. He is pictured above with the famous “Play Like a Champion Today” sign at the football stadium.

Why exactly is it such a well-run operation? Simply put, the leadership gets it.

CYO Director Rob Caldera recently completed a three-day conference at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Ind., hosted by “Play Like a Champion Today” – a coach and sport parent education program that provides leadership in a worldwide effort to renew the culture of sport for youth.

By educating ethically responsible sports leaders, the program seeks to inform young athletes about the importance of strong character through the realm of sports.

Founded in 2006 by members of the Notre Dame faculty, Play Like a Champion Today incorporates the values of Catholicism into its teachings about sportsmanship, fair play, best coaching practices and responsible decision-making.

“I was totally blown away this year by the message,” said Caldera. “I felt they hit the right points this year that we are now going to bring here to our diocese.

“Play like a champion today … the word ‘champion’ is not necessarily in the meaning of a winner, but a champion of God and a champion of Jesus.”

CYO and Play Like a Champion Today are now officially partner organizations. This September, the organization will be providing a full-day training for all diocesan parish athletic representatives, who will then spread the message to their individual parishes.

Caldera, who took over as CYO director in 2013, learned about the foundation through periodic mailings. After attending last year’s conference, he knew the coaches and parents of the diocese would benefit from hearing the organization’s message.

This year’s conference featured a wide range of speakers, including Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick and men’s basketball coach Mike Brey. Caldera said he was fascinated with how these collegiate sports gurus were able to communicate to an audience involved primarily with youth sports.

Caldera met CYO directors from across the country and exchanged different ideas and best practices. He also met the Diocese of Rockville Centre’s executive director, Paul Echausse, and the two are already planning a discussion about how they can employ what they learned at the conference into their day-to-day operations.

“It’s pretty cool because it’s all the same concept; it’s CYO,” Caldera said. “That’s what we’re all about. It’s the same foundations.”

One of Caldera’s main takeaways from the conference is that youth sports in general are on the rise. While participation in baseball and tackle football is on the decline, the interest levels in soccer and lacrosse are skyrocketing.

The nationwide trends are being seen in Brooklyn and Queens as well. Soccer has grown here for the past five years, and there are now talks to potentially begin hosting lacrosse clinics to break in that new sport. Flag football has also grown in size since it began last spring.

The conference also touched upon how sports impact culture and family life today. Caldera said he was impressed with how the presenters were able to relate sports with going to Mass.

“When you think about going to Mass, we all kneel at Mass,” he said. “We’re all different classes and different cultures at Mass, but at that moment, we’re all one.

“When you play on a sports team, you may be from a different culture or different background, but there you are as one.”

Play Like a Champion Today will be presenting to the diocese Sept. 15. After the training, Caldera said he hopes the message will trickle down to coaches and parents at the parish level to help the young athletes grow athletically, spiritually, emotionally and socially.

And throughout that journey, the CYO and Play Like a Champion Today will ensure that it’s all about the big picture: kids simply playing a game with Jesus as their No. 1 coach.

Contact Jim Mancari via email at

Share this article with a friend.