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.
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
This past week, Mercedes-Benz USA, in partnership with the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, announced a $1.15 million gift to the Up2Us Coach Across America program. The announcement was made in Chicago with celebrity athletes and Laureus World Sport Academy Members, Edwin Moses and Marcus Allen, in attendance. The funding will sponsor 250 coaches in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and New Orleans. There's something very special about this donation: it came from an automobile company. That's right, an automobile company whose business is not obviously tied to fighting childhood obesity or promoting health outcomes. But Mercedes Benz USA demonstrates that maybe it's business is, in fact, tied to the wellbeing of the next generation of Americans. Maybe all our business is tied to this one single outcome.
You don't need an Italian mother like mine to remind you that "if you have your health, you have everything". Yet, we continue to ignore the worsening situation in which an estimated 25 million children will watch their health erode because of poor diets and a lack of opportunities to engage in regular physical activity. Without their health, this generation will face countless other challenges, that include low worker productivity, low quality of life, low civic engagement and even increased depression. Is this really the future of America?
The 250 Coach Across America coaches will be equipped with the tools to use sports to teach nutrition and wellness and to inspire physical activity for more than 40,000 at-risk youth. This is just the start for this program, which challenges every person to use their love of sports to spend a year in service to kids who need them.
If our nation has its health, it has everything.
At a time in which we face numerous challenges, let's keep this in the forefront of our minds.
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
The following are excerpts of a speech made by Paul Caccamo at a Congressional Briefing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, March 20.: In 2010, Up2Us gathered 100 program leaders to Washington and requested a GAO study to explore the state of youth sports. I want to lead off my comments about this study by saying: "This report is exactly why Up2Us exists"
This report points out that sports play a unique role in promoting physical health, academic success and pro-social behavior. To my knowledge, this is the first time the GAO has ever publicly stated the value of sports as an agent of social change in our society. This is an important statement especially because we are one of the only federal governments that does not have an agency or policy director specifically in charge of youth sports.
The report also makes clear that the federal government does not allocate any formal resources to protect youth sports in this country. For example:
The Dept. Of Education does not require a minimum level of funding be allocated to school sports----though participation in sports is tied to increased academic performance.
The Dept. Of Justice, which funds mentors, does not yet include coaches in the current portfolio of mentors, though participation in youth sports is tied to decreased gang activity.
And the Dept. Of Health does not have programs linking their support for promoting physical activity to sports activities that are proven solutions to ending childhood obesity.
The report points out another important challenge facing youth sports in the years ahead: that the infrastructure that is necessary for youth sports is crumbling. At Up2Us, we know firsthand from our members that in many cities kids can’t play because they have no busses or transportation to get to the games. We know that school gyms are now classrooms, cafeterias are makeshift gyms, courts are in disrepair, and fields are often padlocked after school. We know that equipment is in dangerous disrepair and some teams are forced to share uniforms. And we know that schools and communities are lacking trained coaches during daytime hours when kids need them the most.
There are three last points on this report that I think are worth commenting on for further study:
1. The report states that opportunity to play sports are increasing based on evidence from 2000 to 2006 and interviews with a dozen officials. Yet, Up2Us has found that $3.5 billion has been cut from public school sports programs based on data collected from almost 500 public schools and districts across the country in the past two years.
2. The report says that roughly 30% of public schools charge fees or “pay-to-play” and that this percentage has not changed by much between 2000 to 2006. Yet, Up2Us has found that the past 3 years have been devastating economically to many communities. Pay-to-play is now surging as a practice and is embraced by 43 states. As a result, at least 40% of public schools charge fees as of 2010.
3. Finally, the report mentions that schools that charge pay to play or other fees sometimes waive these fees for youth who cannot afford them. Yet the report does not going into further detail about whether the existence of these fees is a barrier to prevent poor youth from even trying out for sports; whether these fee waivers tend to favor talented youth over non-talented athletes; and what happens to schools in the poorest public school districts in which no student is able to afford a fee.
I will tell you what happens. Their sports programs disappear.
Despite these discrepancies, I am pleased that at least we are finally having this dialogue about the State of Youth Sports in America at the level of our Federal Government. I thank all the members of Up2Us who petitioned in Washington to make this dialogue possible. Thanks also to the leadership of Congressional Youth Sports Caucus. As this report makes abundantly clear, our endgame is not to fight for sports to make the next great team of American all-stars, but to protect sports to ensure the next great generation of American citizens.
Paul Caccamo Executive Director
The director of an Up2Us program once told me the story of her childhood. She grew up in a housing project where her mother had her when she was a teenager, and her grandmother had her mother when she was a teenager. She was told never to expect to leave the housing project or the cycle of poverty that she was born into because it “just didn’t happen.” But throughout her childhood, she ran track and played sports—and her coach had different dreams for her. Her coach told her to imagine college, to imagine success, and to imagine a life beyond the projects. With her coach’s ongoing support, she set goals for herself as an athlete and a student. She used the skills she learned from being part of the team to become successful in college, in her career and in life… Can sports end poverty? Yes they can. And I think the model for doing so goes something like this: we train coaches to inspire young people in areas of extreme urban and rural poverty. These coaches coach after school, but they also meet with children during the school day to “check in on them” and help them set weekly goals for themselves. These goals include everything from life skills, educational goals, employment skills, to simply believing in themselves. The coaches also create expectations for the teams so that the kids can learn from each other on and off the field. This includes teammates holding each other accountable for being on time, working together, resolving conflict, focusing on common goals, encouraging each other’s success, overcoming failure, and continuously setting higher expectations. Sounds awfully like employees at Microsoft or Apple.
Through this model, sports can provide children the skills they can use in future careers in businesses, nonprofits and government agencies. I get to see sports do this everyday. Not just through the more than 500 Up2Us member organizations that conduct sports-based youth development programming in every state in this country, but through the coaches in the Up2Us Coach Across America program. Coach Across America is an AmeriCorps program that challenges adults to spend a year in service inspiring low-income youth through sports. AmeriCorps is a federal program that was started to end poverty in this nation. Coach Across America is the sports solution that accomplishes this goal.
…and as for that program director who grew up in the housing project: twenty years later, she’s right back where she started from. But this time she’s not there as a resident but as a coach. She leaves her day job every afternoon just to be there for her team of girls. Her message to each of them is a powerful one:
“I did it and so can you.”
Paul Caccamo Executive Director