Don’t miss our Founder & CEO Paul Caccamo’s chapter on the sports-based youth development movement in a groundbreaking new book on the landscape of youth sports in America.
Though it’s roots begin in the late 1980’s after Paul Caccamo graduated from Georgetown, Up2Us Sports didn’t begin to take shape until 2008. To get the full scope of our origin story, we had one of our coaches interview Paul for a StoryCorps segment on the history of Up2Us Sports and where he sees the organization going in the future.
That’s probably an interesting opening line for an ask from an organization that is focused on using sports to inspire at-risk youth. But just ask Coach Ruby. As a Corporal in the Marine Corps, Ruby served our nation through three separate deployments to Iraq. When she returned, she searched for a way to translate her service and love-of-country abroad to service and love-of-country here at home.
Today, a child waking up in a low income urban community is four times less likely to play sports after school than a child waking up in a more affluent community a mile down the road. Today, kids who should be kicking soccer balls and swinging baseball bats after school, instead, will spend part of today hanging out on the street or getting locked in their apartment by a parent who has no other option for ensuring their safety.
Youth sports have become de-prioritized in a public education system that is measuring itself exclusively by whether or not a child can pass a standardized test. The result of this “all-hands-on-test” philosophy is budget cuts aimed increasingly at “non-essential” programs like sports. This is a crisis. Not because we are failing to cultivate a future Olympic gold medalist or NBA star, but because it hurts our public schools and our communities. We know from numerous studies that youth who play sports have more positive outcomes than those who do not. Youth athletes are less likely to join gangs. They are less likely to get in fights at school, and they are less likely to carry weapons. Student athletes also exhibit stronger executive function skills that are associated with greater academic performance and they experience less anxiety and depression, which are linked to substance abuse and teen suicide.
Solving the crisis of sports in inner-city America requires that we raise public awareness of the problem and its consequences for the well-being of America’s youth. Sports are essential to academic success, community safety, public health and even our economy. After all, the cost of hiring a coach in the south side of Chicago can save taxpayers as much as twenty-nine times that amount in dollars saved from kids being incarcerated or dropping out of school.
Revitalizing youth sports will also necessitate more public-private partnerships to invest in sports in just the same way that these investments impact education, the environment, and our public infrastructure. This kind of investment is largely a human capital one because sports programs require coaches. That’s where AmeriCorps comes in. AmeriCorps is a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service that engages 75,000 Americans each year in intensive service in nonprofits, schools, public agencies and faith-based institutions. This federally funded agency has been the catalyst for addressing many societal needs, and now it can be credited with one more: the formidable task of saving youth sports. Through AmeriCorps, Up2Us Sports launched a program called Coach Across America, which hires and trains young adults to be coaches for at-risk youth in underserved communities. Nearly 2,000 coaches have been trained in major cities across the U.S. and have helped launch and expand sports programs in more than 240 urban communities. Private companies play a major role in the effort. Health corporations match AmeriCorps funding to provide coaches to address childhood obesity. Professional sports teams match AmeriCorps funding to hire coaches to reduce community violence. Defense corporations match AmeriCorps funding to hire returning veterans as coaches. Each of these public-private partnerships also provides jobs to the thousands of young adults who use their coaching roles to launch careers in health, recreation and nonprofit management.
The work to address the crisis of youth sports has just begun, but the foundation laid by AmeriCorps to leverage corporate investment is making a tangible difference. Today, nearly fifty thousand youth are waking up excited to go school because they know they have a team they belong to and a coach who cares about their future. That’s the unique power of service and the impact of those corporations that invest in it.
As seen on The Huffington Post.
For this holiday season, will you give a coach? Often when I meet successful adults, I ask them what, if anything, contributed to their accomplishments. Do you know what many of them say?
“It was my high school coach who believed in me…”
“It was my football coach who inspired me…”
“It was my track coach who wouldn’t take ‘no, I can’t’ as an answer from me.”
Anyone who’s ever played sports knows the power of a coach as a mentor and role model. Many of us still remember some of the life lessons that our coaches taught us. But today, the state of youth sports in America is in sharp decline especially in low-income neighborhoods where young people need coaches the most. Schools that face continuing budget cuts have been forced to eliminate youth sports programs. The result is not just gyms that are now empty, but for millions of kids, life lessons that will never be learned.
That's why I am writing this today. I need you to help me reverse this trend. I dream of a country in which every child has a coach who believes in him, who helps her get through school, who teaches him a healthier lifestyle, and who inspires her to believe in success. This is not just about sports; it’s about improving educational outcomes, reducing youth violence and ending childhood obesity.
My program, Coach Across America, has hired and trained over 1,750 coaches to work with more than 260,000 disadvantaged youth over the past six years. These coaches have motivated kids to be the first in their families to go to college. They have influenced kids to say no to gangs and violence. They have encouraged children to exercise and make better nutritional choices.
Half of the coaches I have hired have been women. Most of the coaches I've hired have come from the same community where they serve. An increasing number of coaches I've hired are veterans returning from war who have discovered that the values they upheld abroad are just as valuable here at home. The values of teamwork, leadership, and discipline define success on a basketball court, in a classroom, in a community, and throughout a lifetime.
That’s why I’m asking you to give a coach this holiday season. I will use your donation to hire and train more coaches to inspire more youth to overcome challenges in this nation’s poorest communities. I can promise you that your donation will have impact. We have undergone an external evaluation and found that every dollar you donate saves this country $29 in costs associated with poor health, neighborhood violence, and kids dropping out of school.
I won’t stop until we build a national workforce of trained coaches who ensure that all children learn these lessons and discover their own capacity for success.
Won’t you help me get there?
Paul Caccamo Up2Us Sports CEO & Founder