Our Founder & CEO Paul Caccamo suggests that youth sports - specifically sports-based youth development - is the intervention tool we need to combat violence in this country. Read his response to Robbie Whelan’s recent Wall Street Journal article.
Tuesday...Whose Day? My guess is that someone in your life inspired you when you were very young to believe in yourself and to dream that you could make it one day.
Maybe it was a teacher or a coach or a music instructor or a mentor.
Now just imagine growing up in a situation in which there is no adult to believe in you. Through no fault of your own, simply because of circumstances beyond your control, you live in a house with an absent parent. You go to an overcrowded school with a teacher who doesn't have time for you. Your peers are getting involved in gangs or becoming moms at age 13. And there are not enough coaches or mentors in your community to show you a different way…a way out.
Today, people across the country are participating in Giving Tuesday. It launches the holiday season asking us all to take a moment and support a charity whose mission means something to us.
I’m asking you to consider Up2Us to be that charity. Support Up2Us’ mission to use sports to bring about change in the lives of our nation’s at-risk youth.
Please do it in honor of an adult who inspired you when you were young—that special "mentor” or “coach" who taught you life lessons that still ring true with you today.
In return, your support will be used to hire and train coach-mentors to be there for kids who desperately need positive role models in their lives. And Up2Us has got the magic formula to do it—it's sports-based youth development programs PLUS highly trained coach mentors. The fact is, while kids in the most traumatic circumstances may lose their connection to most adults, they will still look up to their coach. I want to train a national workforce of coaches in America to foster this trust and inspire in kids, no matter how desperate their circumstances, the skills and life lessons that will get them through school, to college and onward to a successful life.
I say this day belongs to that adult who once inspired you. Honor him or her by making a role model possible for a child who needs one. Click here to make a donation.
Thanks for your support and have a wonderful holiday season!
Paul Caccamo Executive Director
The most important part of my job is to listen and learn from heroes. All over this country, men and women are sacrificing their time and energy to coach at-risk kids in sports. These coaches have no money, no equipment, and no uniforms. But they have a commitment to kids; in many cases, to kids who have been given up on. Here's a few stories I heard in just the past few weeks:
In Miami, I met a coach who goes into the public schools and asks the principals to give him the most dangerous kids roaming those hallways. “The kids who have been incarcerated, who everyone has given up on.” He then plucks those kids out of the school, one by one, and takes them fishing. That's right, he takes them fishing. For many of these teenage males, they have never spent any quality time with an older male. In poorer African-American communities, these kids see gangs and violence as the only way to prove their manhood. But fishing alongside of an older male who looks just like them but chose a different path in life is all they need to see their lives differently. "They don't even have to talk to one another," the coach told me. "Just being in each other's presence is sometimes all it takes." The coach told me that after a dozen years, he recently received his first donation of tackle boxes. He's still trying to get enough fishing rods to give one to every child in the program.
In New Orleans, I met a football coach who told me how he spent a year preparing his kids to have the confidence to play in a football tournament. "They practiced every day," the coach said, "and they committed to staying in school and staying out of trouble." But when the tournament came, even the coach couldn't change the outcome. "When the kids got to the field, they were in awe. The other teams had uniforms and pads. Our kids only had t-shirts and tennis shoes. If you could see the defeat on their faces before the game even began. They felt that they just weren’t good enough. They immediately turned around and got back on the bus.” The coach is still looking for donations of uniforms.
In New York, I sat with a retired man as we watched a group of boys playing basketball. All of the boys were from a nearby housing organization where he still sits on the board of directors. Thanks to Coach Across America, his son was now their basketball coach. I asked the dad what else these kids needed besides a coach. "Trophies," he answered, "every one of them.". He then explained: "I can point to each of the boys on this court and tell you a story you wouldn’t believe. Who's in an abusive home, whose brother was just sent to prison, who doesn’t get fed a decent meal, whose parent is an addict, who was sent away to live with an aunt. Against all these odds, these boys get together every afternoon with my son and instead of joining a gang or doing drugs, they play basketball and commit to their future. Yet, no one has ever pressed pause and given them a trophy.” “Why?” I asked. “Because we don’t have the money to buy them one.”
Donate uniforms or equipment…
Like many of you, I still have my trophies on the wall from when I was kid.
Paul Caccamo Executive Director
Last year, I was at a training where a dozen adults in attendance were each secretly given the name of an accomplished male athlete. They were then instructed to walk around the room and play 20 Questions with one another and see how many of these athletes they could identify from amongst their peers. At the end of ten minutes, a tally was taken to see how the group did. Every secret athlete had been identified multiple times by multiple participants in the room. Next, the same attendants were then asked to repeat the game. But this time, each participant was secretly given the name of a female athlete. The female athletes were equally accomplished as the male athletes in terms of Olympic medals or championships won. The game of 20 Questions ensued. At the end of 10 minutes, only two of the female athletes were identified by the entire group.
Now, let's hold that thought, as I tell you about Coach Holly.
This past Friday, Coach Holly spoke to a room filled with the employees of Mercedes-Benz USA. It was all part of a celebration of the commitment of Mercedes-Benz and the Laureus Sport For Good Foundation to support Coach Across America in cities across the nation. Holly told the employees of how girls at the school where she coaches were being tormented by boys. They said, "you girls shouldn't play sports. Don't you know that girls don't make good athletes". But her girls quickly snapped back: "That's not true. Look at Coach Holly. She's a great athlete."
20 Questions. Coach Holly. Title IX. 40 Years Later...
In case you don't know, Title IX was the landmark legislation passed 40 years ago this week that was supposed to level the playing field for girls to participate in school sports. Despite its provisions, this past year was the first year in decades in which the number of girls playing sports has actually decreased, not increased. It's no surprise when you consider how little recognition we give to female athletes and how few schools actually benefit from a Coach Holly. We still have a long way to go.
In the meantime, one thing we should insist upon for all coaches, male and female, is TRAINING. That’s right, training on gender in sports. Girls socialize, learn and acquire confidence in ways that are different than boys. But with most coaches being male, "STOP TALKING" is often the acceptable M.O. at soccer or basketball practice. And while that might work to control a rambunctious group of 10 year-old boys, for girls trying a new sport for the first time it might translate as "STOP PLAYING". At Up2Us, we believe every coach needs to be trained to engage girls in developmentally appropriate manners that respect their different learning styles and increase their passion for sports. This is not just because every girl should experience the joy of sports, it is because every girl should experience the benefits of sport. These benefits are self-confidence, leadership skills, discipline, conflict resolution and determination. Without them, girls may be at a disadvantage not just as athletes but as future businesspersons and world leaders.
The Up2Us Center for Sports-Based Youth Development is developing training to reach thousands of coaches in the next few years. Our Coach Across America program is hiring and placing hundreds of women as coach-mentors to girls in urban communities. It's just a few steps we are taking to make a more equal nation, 40 years later. We believe in a nation in which gender simply doesn't matter on the field, on the court, or in the stadium…and it shouldn't matter the next time you play 20 Questions either.
Paul Caccamo Executive Director
Last week, Up2Us and Edgework Consulting delivered a training on the power of sport to help traumatized kids heal. It was part of a partnership between the US Attorney’s office and local SBYD leaders in Philadelphia to use sport to address the difficult challenge of working with youth in the juvenile justice system. Most initiatives aiming to keep court-involved youth out of trouble fail to recognize one critical characteristic of the population. Youth who have been exposed to a lifetime of poverty, violence, or both, are traumatized. Trauma impairs the normal development of their brains and bodies and keeps them from functioning in social situations.
Traumatized youth don’t develop the tools to regulate their emotions or control their impulses. Sometimes, they are aggressive and self-destructive; sometimes they isolate themselves. Either way, the behavior is not consistent with social norms and youth are punished for it…even though they can’t control it. Instead of punishment, what traumatized youth really need is a chance to reconnect with their bodies and redevelop social and emotional skills.
They need to play sports.
Within the lines of a lacrosse field or basketball court, youth have the chance to be in control of their bodies and overcome the paralyzing fear of their past. They are encouraged to take risks in a safe and supportive environment where the consequences are not a matter of life or death. They develop a relationship with a caring adult who offers the consistency and predictability that helps them feel in control. They have the chance to heal.
The potential for using sport in the process of healing traumatized youth is boundless. And the need is great. In Philadelphia, they have proposed a simple solution- for probation officers and coaches to work together to provide youth a place where they not only get respite from the chronic trauma of their everyday lives, but also the chance to reverse its effects. We think they are on to something brilliant. And we’ll be supporting them in every way we can.
Megan Bartlett Director, Up2Us Center
Many of my meetings with politicians, foundation leaders, corporate donors and other supporters end up with same question: "how do you know it works?" The "it" is sports-based youth development. Sports-based youth development (which we call SBYD) is the practice of using sports to engage at-risk youth in life lessons and skills development that help them make better choices for their future. These choices include staying in school, graduating, living a healthier lifestyle, saying no to gangs, avoiding other risky behaviors and, perhaps, most importantly, believing in your own potential. Every athlete and former athlete knows that "it" works. But we, at Up2Us, wanted to prove it.
This week, we released our newest report, "Front Runners: Leaders of the Sports-Based Youth Development Pack". This report looks at how sports programs that incorporate the important element elements of youth development in their designs are having dramatic impact on health, educational and pro-social outcomes. All of the programs outlined in the report have undergone outside evaluation to validate their results.
What does this mean for our youth and our nation?
It means that there is a new field out there that may very well be the most effective solution to childhood obesity, high drop-out rates, gangs and teen pregnancy: it's SBYD. And Up2Us is leading the nation in supporting SBYD organizations in every state so that they can serve more kids, make our communities healthier, and inspire the next generation of Americans with the skills to succeed.
If you played a sport, you get it.
If you didn't play a sport, take a look at this report. You will get it.
Paul Caccamo Executive Director
For an online copy of the "Front Runners" report, visit the resources page of our website.
I was stopped by a public school teacher in New York City. He was heartbroken. Here’s the story he told me: In 2010, a young male who was repeatedly bullied at his inner-city high school joined a bicycling program where this teacher volunteered as a coach. The bike program was the only sports program available to this kid. The program targeted at-risk youth by combining bicycling with mentoring and life skills development. “I watched this kid transform before my very eyes.”
In 2011, the young male was not only attending school regularly but he finished first in a hundred mile race. This was a big accomplishment for a cyclist who had not even been on a bike before joining the program. It also exposed him to the possibilities in his future. “I knew this kid was smart and was going places.”
In 2012, the bicycle program, struggling to raise funds in this troubled economy, was forced to discontinue services at this teacher’s school. And that’s when the heartbreak happened: “The kid came up to me just last week and told me that he dropped out of school. ‘Coach’, he said, ‘this cycling program was the only place that ever made me feel I belonged.’"
The cost of maintaining one bicycle for that school translates to the cost of an entire life that will not progress beyond a high school education. That’s a life at greater risk of being incarcerated, unemployed and dependent on public assistance. The alternative was simply a bicycle.
The irony of this story is that it was told to me in the lobby of an Equinox gym where tens and thousands of New Yorkers take their cycling machines for granted. I think there’s a message here to gyms and other corporations: use the power of your business to help the communities you serve. What would it take for gyms to have community nights where programs that bring health to underserved youth can share information with their health conscious consumers? For the gym, it would demonstrate that their commitment to fitness extends beyond the bottom line—it reaches out into the community. For the gym member, it would help them to take pride in companies that they choose to give their business. And for the nonprofits, it might just create a connection with one conscientious gym member who could donate a bicycle….and save a life.
Gyms and other companies that want to make a genuine difference in the wellbeing of children across America should reach out to me, and I’ll help them set up these community nonprofit nights. And, for individuals, don’t wait for your gym to motivate you, just visit www.up2us.org and let us know if you have sports equipment that we can put into a child’s hand tomorrow.
Paul Caccamo Executive Director
There are conflicting reports on the number of youth playing sports and whether it is increasing or decreasing. I want to focus for a moment on the "decreasing":
The opportunities for youth to play sports in low-income communities is decreasing.
The number of youth playing sports in low-income communities is decreasing.
And, the role sports play in addressing critical life-skills development for all youth, regardless of socioeconomic background, is decreasing.
For kids in many public schools, sports are going the route of arts and music programs: they are disappearing. And for girls who benefitted from Title 9 legislation forty years ago that protected them from discrimination in sports, their programs are being sacrificed even faster---especially when the school chooses to prioritize saving the boy's basketball team or boy's football team.
This is why we are building a national movement to preserve youth sports in America. We are rallying youth sports providers nationwide to join Up2Us to prevent sports from being accessible only to the most athletically-inclined or the most economically well off. Through Up2Us, these providers are finding new ways to share resources, strengthen programs, support coach-mentors, conduct evaluation, tackle issues like field space, and perhaps, most importantly, attract new sources of donations to keep kids from being sidelined for life. Individuals and other donors can help this movement as well: by donating cash, product, equipment, and time at www.up2us.org.
The Up2Us model of unifying the field of sports-based youth development to fight for its preservation is critical. Let's use it to ensure access to sports for generations to come. And yes, let's create a model that one day can be used to spurn future movements, like one that revives those arts and music programs as well.
Paul Caccamo Executive Director