NOW IS THE TIME FOR SYSTEMIC CHANGE TO YOUTH SPORTS
Tom Farrey, Executive Director, Sports & Society Program at The Aspen Institute
Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist, PLAY Sports Coalition executive director/board member and LeagueApps Head of Community & Impact, President of FundPlay
David Flynn, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Center for Healing & Justice Through Sport
Adam Fraser, Chief Executive, Laureus Sport for Good Foundation
Renata Simril, President, Play Equity Fund
Youth sports took a significant hit during the pandemic. One study shows the average child spends about 6.5 fewer hours per week on sports, with free play, practices and competitions in communities like Milwaukee significantly declining, or even being temporarily canceled, and the state of Minnesota reporting full cease of operations of at least six different youth sports non-profit programs. A stark reality of this pandemic-forced outcome is that thousands of kids nationwide are left without access to the vital physical, mental and emotional benefits that sport offers.
The same global pandemic that forced those closures has forced our youth sports sector to a crossroads and exacerbated inequities in its systems.
We, a cohort of national sports organizations, have chosen the path of uniting and advocating for actions to build a reimagined youth sports culture.
It’s our collective vision of service that will overhaul those systems that prevent equitable access to play and its undeniable benefits.
According to the National Survey of Children’s Health, only 24% of youth ages 6 to 17 engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day, down from 30% a decade earlier. Boys (28%) are more likely than girls (20%) to meet this daily physical activity recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For kids that do play, their experiences are too often harmful. An overemphasis on elite performance and the influence of money in youth sports have taken the joy out of the game for many.
We can do better.
We must do better because we know more than ever how the unique power of sport contributes positively to our society.
A sample of 10,000 young people throughout the U.S. showed participants in sports-based youth development (SBYD) programs developed social emotional skills at a significantly higher rate than participants in non-sports afterschool programs (Laureus USA, Hello Insight, 2021). The emotional support provided by SBYD staff contributes to youth-perceived self-control (Riley et al., 2017), and a caring sports environment contributes to youth beliefs about their ability to empathize and regulate positive and negative emotions, and prosocial behaviors (Gano-Overway et al., 2009).
As youth sports begin to recover from the damages done by the COVID-19 pandemic, the national organizations we represent are leveraging this historic moment to collectively action the need to transform youth sports:
Laureus Sport for Good Foundation USA — Sport for Good Chicago, an initiative of Laureus USA made up of more than 80 local organizations, has come together to launch Chicago’s Comeback — a month-long campaign to raise awareness around the important role sport can play in helping young people heal, grow, and thrive as they return to school and in-person programming. The campaign encourages Chicago residents to sign a Letter of Support calling on legislative stakeholders and funders to prioritize sustained, year-over-year funding for local sport-based youth development programs as they seek an equitable post-pandemic recovery. Last year, Laureus also launched the Sport for Good Response Fund to support sport for development organizations in overcoming challenges faced as a result of COVID-19 and ensure they are able to continue to reach and support young people. The fund, which was also supported by Beyond Sport Foundation, LA84, Hong Kong Rugby Union Community Foundation and Comic Relief US, provided grants to more than 60 sport organizations across the world.
Aspen Institute Project Play — More than 70 of the most influential organizations in the sport and nonprofit sectors and hundreds of athletes have officially endorsed the Children’s Bill of Rights in Sports, drafted by the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program to create a shared cultural understanding about the right of all youth to play and to develop through sports. Together, the endorsing athletes and organizations create a platform to lift the quality and quantity of sports activities made available to youth, regardless of their zip code or ability. Project Play also has created an online petition for advocates of quality youth sports to add their voices.
Center for Healing and Justice Through Sport (CHJS) — Formally known as We Coach, CHJS is a new national nonprofit organization backed by science that brings trauma-informed sport to youth who need it most. CHJS is releasing a national application for coaches to receive training on healing-centered sport. It is also spearheading The Agenda to Transform Youth Sports, a movement-building tool which calls on stakeholders nationwide to change harmful sports systems so that all kids have access to sport experiences that help them heal and thrive. To learn more about both subscribe to their newsletter.
PLAY Sports Coalition — Formed in April 2020 to unite a fragmented industry, PLAYS is a unique coalition of thousands of stakeholders across the national and community youth sports industry that advocates continues to be an active advocate of support for youth development programs, young athletes, working families, coaches and volunteers across all 50 states, particularly those in under-resourced areas. This fall, PLAYS will be reemerging, guided by a new Board of Directors, on its mission to ensure the youth and local sports industry thrives by providing families, and especially youth, equitable access to play opportunities for physical and mental health, character and leadership development.
Play Equity Fund/LA84 Foundation — The Play Equity Fund and the LA84 Foundation are committed to creating pathways for all youth to have access and opportunity to experience the transformative power of sport. Both organizations work to center play and sport as integral to childhood development and community well-being in society. Recently the organizations launched Play Day, a national collective moment where kids, families, organizations, schools, communities and supporters joined together to uplift the value of play and sports. Play Day builds community annually between the many partners in the growing #PlayEquityMovement who are dedicated to driving access for all young people to experience active, healthy experiences that create conditions for kids to succeed.
The pandemic continues to have a significant effect on kids, as their time spent in organized sport, in free play, at school, and with friends decreased greatly causing undue stress and anxiety.
While each individual organization has a different role to play within the youth sports ecosystem, the growing coordination amongst national advocacy groups represents an unprecedented path forward.
All kids deserve this unified commitment to ensuring a system change for their benefit. And the time is now.