I’m serious. There is enough evidence to demonstrate that youth sports programs promote physical and mental health that medical providers could save the healthcare system billions by simply prescribing “3 hours of tennis (or lacrosse or swimming or soccer) per week”. And for parents, this prescription is safe and comes without harmful side effects. Think about it. We now know that kids who play sports are eight times more likely to be active as adults. They are more likely to have healthier self-images and less likely to experience emotional distress. On the contrary, kids who do not play sports are 60% more likely to be overweight and are more likely to start drinking and using drugs. In the long term, regular participation in sports prevents diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions. It also relieves mental distress and promotes confidence and self-esteem. What pill does all of that?
But there’s one key to ensuring this prescription’s effectiveness. The patient should ask their doctor to be prescribed “sports-based youth development”--not just any sports. Sports based youth development programs prioritize inclusion, fun, safety and health. And their coaches have received basic training on child development. They know how to congratulate their athletes not just for scoring goals but for striving to achieve goals on and off the field. They create atmospheres that are safe for all players to try new things and for any one player to make mistakes.
Where can a patient find these programs? Up2Us is a coalition of more than 500 of them serving children in every state in the country. By prioritizing youth development over developing elite athletes, Up2Us organizations are redefining sports as a solution to this nation’s healthcare crisis. After all, promoting health and wellness was what youth sports were originally about one hundred years ago when sports were first instituted as a free part of our public education system. Look where we are now that 43 states allow these same schools to charge their kids to play sports: we have the first generation of youth with a lower life expectancy than their parents.
Just two weeks ago, I met with a sports-based youth development program in Los Angeles that targets low-income youth who are otherwise shut out of elite sports leagues. The week I was there was special for one particular coach at the program. Thanks to his work, one of his athletes, a young girl, had just learned that she no longer needed eight separate pills to control her type 2 diabetes. In fact, her doctor told this girl and her parents that they could manage the disease without any medication at all.
The savings to the healthcare system for this child alone is enough to fund ten sports programs in their entirety. I say it’s time we multiply her story by the other 20 million children who are threatened by diabetes in their lifetimes.
There’s one way to do so. Let’s get doctors to prescribe youth sports.
Paul Caccamo Executive Director