US coach takes snowboarding lessons to playgrounds

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Before he started coaching Olympic gold medalists on the snow, Mike Jankowski used to sweat it out on the wrestling mat.

He learned a lot of lessons that way - about teamwork, problem solving, getting the most out of yourself even when you weren't feeling your best.

That appreciation for sports is what drove him to become America's freestyle ski and snowboarding coach, and also what led him to spearhead a charity drive to help kids make the most out of their recess time on the playground.

''Sports is something that I've learned, first-hand, about how it can empower people's lives,'' said Jankowski, who on Thursday teamed with the Laureus Sport For Good Foundation to give a $750,000 grant to the nonprofit group Playworks.

Playworks will divide the money between schools in Jankowski's hometown of Portland, Oregon, and four other cities to help them train young adults to become coaches for kids at recess during school.

It's about teaching games, but also about conflict resolution and making the playground a safer, more productive place - especially as kids' time in the playground gets shrunk because of dwindling resources, fewer physical education classes, along with the ever-growing presence of video games.

''It's about having time on the playground to work together,'' Jankowski said. ''It's combating bullying, dealing with other social issues, health issues, education issues. It's also about helping kids stay sharp and focused when they go back into the classroom from the playground.''

Jankowski's first big coaching job was at the Stratton Mountain School in Vermont, where he worked with up-and-coming teenagers like snowboarders Lindsey Jacobellis, Louis Vito, Kevin Pearce and Luke Mitrani.

Jankowski has been coaching the U.S. action sports teams at the Olympics since 2006. He is still flying high from the trip to Russia earlier this year, where the U.S. action sports athletes took home 10 medals.

It was during the trip that Jankowski, in search of giving back to his community, hooked up with Laureus.

''Yes, I'm a coach at an elite level, and I work with amazing athletes at the top levels,'' he said. ''I have an impact on them, for sure, but I wanted to have a broader impact on my community, as well.''