A value-added ingredient

A group of parents is trying to encourage schoolchildren to be involved in sports – but without the ugliness and violence that has pervaded the local scene.

Larry Rubin (left) and Shahar Rubinstein (photo credit: Courtesy)
Larry Rubin (left) and Shahar Rubinstein
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Unfortunately, sports in Israel is often viewed as a negative influence rather than a potential for positive change. Local sports reached arguably its lowest point with the recent soccer brawls involving players and club officials, further tarnishing an already blotted reputation.
However, there are those who continue to believe that a brighter future is possible. Rather than treating sports as a harmful element, they see it as a force for good and a significant educational tool.
After experiencing firsthand the culture of youth teams in Israel, hi-tech entrepreneur Larry Rubin decided to try to initiate a change for the better by founding Value Sports. Two years on, his nonprofit organization is about to double to 10 centers, taking him another step towards the realization of his dream of having a positive impact on every corner of the country.
“When I came here, I got each one of my children into competitive sports at around age nine, and I was very concerned about the behavior of the kids on the court and particularly the behavior of the coaches,” says the 63-year-old Beit Zayit resident, who made aliya with his family from the US 17 years ago. “I felt there was a need to use sports to build character, to build better values and to build better people. Probably 99 percent of the kids in sports are not going to become professional athletes, and even those who do should set a great example. When I was growing up, a professional athlete was an example of a person of high standing. That was my motivation.”
Rubin refused to accept the the overly aggressive behavior of the players on the basketball court or the coaches screaming at the young team members.That led him to bring a group of coaches and athletes together and fund the start of the Value Sports program.
“It started with me alone,” he says, “but I was very fortunate that Tmura, The Israeli Public Service Venture Fund, which is made up of venture capital in the hitech community, agreed to match a grant of mine. Each one of us put in NIS 170,000 to start up, and they have also done follow-up contributions because they have seen the results.”
Leading the program is general manager Shahar Rubinstein, whom Rubin describes as an idealistic educator. The 35-year-old father of two from Kibbutz Nitzanim helped build the program over the past two years.
“Our vision is that sports will become an informal educational framework,” says Rubinstein. “For that to happen, we need the coaches to be educators on the pitch. That means that the cooperation between parents and coaches needs to focus fully on the progress of the child, which is often not the case these days. You see everyone shouting in every direction, with the child in the middle. That is the reality we want to change.”
Former University of Connecticut and Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball star Doron Sheffer was one of those who helped Rubinstein create the program.
“This project puts an important emphasis on values in the sporting world and reminds us that what is truly important is the path you take and not the ultimate result,” says Sheffer.
Value Sports began with youth basketball teams in Jerusalem and now works with both Hapoel and Beitar Jerusalem, as well as teams in Ramle and Beersheba, among other cities. The program currently reaches 2,500 children, but that will double later this year when five more centers will be established, with each center being led by an educational manager and a sports psychologist.
“There are almost 200,000 children involved in basketball and soccer in Israel. The ability to have an influence on such a large scale is something that is within reach,” says Rubinstein before explaining how the program works.
“We meet with coaches twice a month to talk to them about values. We also have a clinic once a month with each of the teams we work with because it is important for us to also have direct access to the children.”
Rubinstein took a full-time role with Value Sports after teaching at the Denmark High School in Jerusalem, realizing the effect he could have through sports.
“I had kids who were players on Beitar Jerusalem, and I felt that as an educator I had little influence on them,” he says. “All of a sudden I saw that their coach had an amazing influence on these kids. I did everything to get these children to attend school, and their coach got them to come with a single phone call.”
Rubinstein and Rubin have been delighted with the results achieved by the program so far.
“We found out that in an intervention we made at Beitar Jerusalem, there was a 30% improvement in the kids’ attendance in school,” Rubinstein reveals. “That is very significant. Ten percent is considered to be very high in informal educational programs.”
Value Sports has also been recognized by the Jerusalem Municipality, being awarded a prize for the work it is doing with Beitar. In just two years, Value Sports has already made a considerable impact. And Rubin believes there is much more to come.
“As a businessman, you look at the marketplace and see if there is a market, and there is such a huge market for this,” he says. “It’s a constant process. The expansion has got to be national. The basis of the Jewish people is values. That makes us a great people.”