“I want to play tennis.” “Yes me too!”
These comments from an African-American boy and girl from a low-income neighborhood of New York this past Saturday at the U.S. Open.
Yes, it was Arthur Ashe Kids Day, commemorating one of the world’s greatest tennis players who was also African-American. Yet, 34 years after Ashe won the inaugural US Open, tennis still remains a sport not widely accessible to minority kids from low-income neighborhoods in New York City. In fact, most sports are not really that accessible to kids in low-income minority neighborhoods in most cities in this country. That's why the decision by Mercedes-Benz USA and the US Tennis Association to give Up2Us nearly 200 tickets to expose kids to the game mattered -- not just for the joy Arthur Ashe Day brought to their young lives, but to the potential these young lives bring to tennis.
At a time in which urban youth are playing less and less sports, it is critical that you, professional sports leaders, rise to the occasion and turn this unfortunate trend around. After all, you have the most powerful assets to do so—your events, your players, your staff and your facilities.
Here's a few ways in which you can inspire the next generation of athletes while at the same time tackle issues such as childhood obesity and academic failure in our nation's public schools:
- Think about how you use your assets differently. Don’t just give them away but leverage them to challenge youth to earn them. Contests like “the team that has perfect school attendance gets recognized at halftime” could dramatically change drop out rates two blocks from Yankee Stadium. Or, “the team that stands up to violence goes center court at the Bulls game” could do more to end youth violence in Chicago than the police department.
- Make tickets available to the kids who otherwise cannot afford to attend the game. Find a network like Up2Us in your city to help distribute them. You will inspire kids, not just for day but maybe a lifetime.
- Allocate a certain percentage of Jumbotron and official program ads to recognize scholar-athletes and other youth leaders in your city. Work with the Mayors office, the public schools, Up2Us, YMCA or another local group to run contests for teams to earn this recognition.
- Require official sponsors of your teams merchandise to allocate a minimum amount of in-kind product, equipment, and trophies to programs that serve the poorest of kids in your community. Make this a mandated part of their sponsorship.
- Require your athletes to spend some of their time or donate their signed paraphernalia to reward and recognize outstanding youth leaders in the community.
- Share your stadiums, courts and arenas. Give deserving youth teams the opportunity to play a tournament or game in your facilities. Let youth sports organizations use your stadium suites for important meetings during daytime hours when they are otherwise empty.
- Use halftimes and pre-game activities to recognize youth from under-served areas whose commitment to your sport will be an inspiration to your fans.
- Consider a career day in which all of your employees, not just the players, share their skills and expertise with young developing minds. After all, you might just inspire the next marketing director, communications specialist, trainer or GM!
These are just a few ideas. Up2Us published a report on this topic as part of the Beyond Sport Summit in 2011. We will send it to you if you contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leagues, Teams, and Associations: YOU REALLY DO HAVE THE POWER.
I know this firsthand. I saw a whole bunch of kids who never before picked up a tennis racket suddenly want to become players.
Paul Caccamo Executive Director