2019 Project Play Summit
Two weeks ago, Detroit played host to Project Play, a two-day conference put on by the Aspen Institute, with over 500 participants from around the country. A great group of leaders at the intersection of youth, sport and health all convened to share best practices and learn from each other. Topics included:
- The State of Youth Sports in America
- Creating Inclusive Programs
- How to Effectively Tell Your Story
- Call for Leadership: The Role of Government in Driving Systems-Level Change
- Revitalize In-Town Leagues: Pro Teams Find the Value
- Encourage Sports Sampling
- Design for Development
- How Tech Could Reshape Youth Sports
- How to Coach Girls
We were fortunate enough to speak with some of the panelists, attendees and speakers and share insight into the world of sports philanthropy. Below are a few of the takeaways we gathered over the course of the conference.
1. We are stronger together and our differences should be celebrated
Alastair Shaw, a Special Olympics United Partner said, “Inclusion is everywhere, we just have to let it happen. People with intellectual disabilities are just like any other person. Don’t assume they can’t do something just because they’re different. They can achieve whatever they put their minds to.”
Julia Ray simply stated, “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”
2. Storytelling is both an art and a science (David Brooks, NY Times)
- Writing great stories and creating content requires a vulnerability that isn’t always easy to access. I try to create a series or points of emotion within a speech to tie it together and connect with the audience, while writing from a position of strength.
- Really good public speakers fall on the audience and hope that they’ll catch them. It creates a sense of connection between speaker and listener.
- Storytelling is a creative endeavor – it’s all about structure. One tip: try getting a story to 80% complete before entering it into a computer.
3. The culture of youth sports isn’t broken, but it needs some fixing.
As the coach of the seven-time national champion UCLA Bruins gymnastics team, Coach Valerie Kondos Field has seen it all. She’s worked with some of the best and brightest gymnasts as both a coach and a mentor. She said, “It’s on us to change the culture of youth sports from measuring success based on money and medals to learning and joy that our athletes experience.” It’s not all rainbows and sunshine and there shouldn’t be participation trophies; however, society can’t base success solely on medals, especially at the youth level.
Kyle Martino, a former professional MLS and USMNT player said 90% of kids won’t play professionally let alone at the Division 1 level. This shouldn’t be the measuring stick of success because it isn’t realistic. The aspirations are fine, but the expectations need to be tempered.
Chris Webber, the former NBA All-Star and member of Michigan’s Fab Five said, “I can’t imagine the pressure, I can’t imagine you know, being 12-years-old and being told you can make it to the NBA.” The pressure put on kids in sports in today’s society is simply out of control, many times because of parents. While parents want the best for their children, these unrealistic expectations can end up causing children to quit sports early because they fall out of love with the game.
4. Sport is a vehicle for social impact
This is a no brainer, but it goes beyond that. As President and CEO of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, David Egner knows a thing or two about programming and fundraising. His biggest takeaway: “Don’t bet on programs, bet on people. Great programs are the result of passionate people” Our programs need the right people in place to make it a success. As a follow up, it’s critical to recruit coaches who are a reflection of the kids. We need coaches to coach through a lens of empathy and equity.
5. Writing a check isn’t enough these days
David Egner took it a step further and said that foundations can’t simply write checks and disappear. This is a band-aid on a bigger issue. It’s as important to make the connections for a smaller nonprofit so it can teach itself to fish rather than put its hand out for food.
6. Be brave, not perfect
Girls are dropping out of youth sports at an alarming rate earlier than their male counterparts. It’s critical to provide a safe space for youth girls, while encouraging them to not be afraid to fail or make a mistake. First and foremost – ask them, invite them and welcome them in sports. Only then, will youth girls be able to foster a growth mindset.
7. Communities need public, private and civic organizations to work in tandem
It’s great to have the support of a for-profit organization or have nonprofit partners. It’s more important to be rowing in the right direction as many of us are fighting similar issues. We are stronger together and can achieve our goals if we share resources, knowledge and capital
8. Kids are a part of the conversation
Just because they can’t drive, doesn’t mean their opinion shouldn’t be heard! Ultimately, the decline in youth sports is the issue, so defining the root is critical. While coaches’ and parents’ voice may be loud, the most important might be the child’s voice. Don’t forget to ask kids what they want – to get and keep them active, include their voice in the construct of youth sports. The average child quits sports at the age of 11 according to Jon Solomon. The #1 reason kids play sports is that they want to have fun. However, the competitive pressure from coaches and parents as well as the rising costs, become a barrier for too many kids.
9. We need to close the play-equity gap
Part of the reason that kids are dropping out of sports is because they don’t have access to equipment, fields or safe spaces. 65% of low-income kids don’t play sports – this is something that is unacceptable and needs to be fixed in order to curb the downward trend.
10. Have key talking points for any situation
Communication is key and you need to be able to connect with people in any environment. Try to have 3-5 key talking points that are tested with consumers, donors or community members. They should resonate with donors and be the key phrases that are used internally, externally and in-person.