Founder's Corner

The Crisis of Sports in Inner-City America

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.

The reason?

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.

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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.

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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.

Give a Coach This Holiday Season

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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?

Happy Holidays,

Paul Caccamo Up2Us Sports CEO & Founder

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“I Do” vs. “I Can”: Marriage Equality and Youth Sports

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This summer, Americans witnessed the highest court of the land deliver a message to LGBTQ youth that one day they too, can say “I do.” But little more than a month prior to the ruling, a rather startling survey revealed that many LGBTQ youth continued to suffer from widespread prejudice in sports settings across the nation. The levels of homophobia and discrimination in youth sports, in which the U.S. ranked worst of the six countries surveyed, suggest that the legal victory of “I do,” while important, may have little bearing on the persistent social challenges faced by LGBTQ youth in saying “I can.” By “I can,” I mean “I can play baseball.” “I can play basketball.” “I can play football.” The study looked at 9,500 LGBTQ people in 6 countries and found that 84% of gay males and 82% of lesbians were subject to verbal slurs like ‘faggot’ and ‘dyke’ while participating in sports. Half of gay men and nearly a third of lesbians hid their sexuality from their teammates for fear of rejection, and only 1% of those surveyed felt that gays and lesbians were completely accepted in youth sports.

Invariably, in every one of the situations in which discrimination occurred, there was an adult, also known as the coach, who either paid no attention or tacitly allowed these homophobic slurs to slip under their radar without intervening. The effects of these coaches’ ignorance are not just that the vast majority of LGBTQ drop out of sports because they do not feel welcomed, but also that the coach establishes a norm in which the wider umbrella of prejudice and bullying becomes acceptable to all youth, gay or straight. This is neither good for sports nor good for this nation.

Sports programs must be inclusive of all youth, and coaches must be trained to value and promote diversity and inclusion. We simply cannot afford to have any child drop out of sports based on prejudice. It is anathema to what sports represent to our society as a way to bring people together. It is also damaging to the overall process of child development. The evidence that participation in sports creates healthier and more engaged citizens is overwhelming. Boys who play sports are much less likely to drop out of school and much more likely to avoid making bad choices like joining a gang. Girls who play sports are more likely to have confidence and self-esteem, graduate from school, and avoid teenage pregnancy. The regular physical activity that comes from sports is now being linked to stress reduction, cognitive skill building and crucial brain development that contribute to children’s grit and self-worth. The case for youth sports is clear:  youth sports are critical to child development. For LGBTQ youth who experience higher rates of depression and suicide, these benefits may literally save lives.

It is critical that schools, parks and other publicly financed institutions require coaches to be certified in sports-based youth development (SBYD).   SBYD incorporates the best practices in positive youth development into coaching so that coaches know how to address issues like bullying, racism, homophobia and sexual harassment among their teams.

The results of this recent study remind me of an SBYD training conducted by Up2Us Sports in Los Angeles that involved more than 100 coaches, many of them from urban minority communities. The training provided coaches with resources and methodologies for designing practices that engage all youth; promote social interaction across race, gender, and sexual orientation; address issues of trauma; inspire health and wellness; and maximize the sports experience as one of growth, learning and fun. Upon the completion of the training, one of the coaches stood up and shared his story of being a gay man in an inner-city community in which his family, his church, and his sports team disowned him. He described a journey of feeling so isolated that he nearly dropped out of school and got involved in violence and other negative behaviors just to cover up his identity and his lack of acceptance. He concluded that it was his love of sports that eventually motivated him to turn his life around and become a coach. While he stated that he did not intend to “come out” at the training, the training enabled him to understand that his plight was shared by millions of children in this country whose silence in sports was reinforced by coaches who were never trained to speak out about prejudice and bullying. He said that only now did he realize the influence that a coach could have in making a child believe that he belonged.

It's important now more than ever that we train our coaches to step up to the plate and be the role models that their positions require. This is not a gay issue, it’s a youth development issue. Sport is the level playing field that has historically been the platform for ending prejudice and discrimination. It is important that one day when LGBTQ youth say “I do,” it's because they grew up just like any other youth who said  “I can.”

“I can play basketball.”

“I can play soccer.”

“I can play sports.”

 

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In 2013, Up2Us Sports and the Ben Cohen StandUP Foundation partnered to increase awareness of bullying in youth sports by creating an anti-bullying curriculum and toolkit for programs and coaches. The toolkit is built to ensure that all coaches have the awareness, knowledge, and strategies to make safe sports environments a reality. Click here learn more about the training and to access the toolkit.
 
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Why Pope Francis Should Join My Board of Directors

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Paul CaccamoFounder & CEO Up2Us Sports -

Youth sports are in desperate need of reform. Less and less kids are playing sports in America and kids from disadvantaged economic backgrounds are seeing their sports programs cut entirely. This is not just an issue of the decline of one our great pastimes, it is the loss of one of most effective tools for developing essential life skills in young people in this country.

I have spent my life not only calling for reform, but also implementing tools to carry out this reform. I launched Up2Us Sports in 2010 to train coaches on how to use sports to inspire success among youth. This means teaching coaches how they can impact health, violence and academic success using just a golf club or a tennis racket, a hockey stick or a soccer ball. In the poorest neighborhoods in this country, I also hire and train local adults as coaches to use sports to address issues of poverty. After all, kids who play sports are more likely to perform better in school and succeed in the future workplace. A recent evaluation of Up2Us Sports shows that the dollars invested in training coaches potentially saves society millions of dollars in costs associated with treating chronic diseases and/or incarcerating our youth. Both issues are preventable when youth have teams to belong to that inspire exercise and discipline.

Having spent my career in sports-based youth development, the most difficult part of my job is convincing donors that funding sports is not frivolous. It is a solution to violence prevention, health education and academic outcomes. But with a board member like the Pope, my job might just be easier.

If you haven't heard, the Pope recently gave a speech to the Pontifical Council for the Laity calling for reform in youth sports. He said that overemphasis on competitive sports have derailed the potential of sports to help lift children out of poverty. He said that training coaches is key to helping sports achieve its potential for all youth, but particularly those youth in disadvantaged communities. And he urged adults to reform youth sports so that it can be the solution that Up2us Sports envisions it to be. Okay, he didn't say "Up2Us Sports" by name but I'm sure if he knew about us he would have. And I'm sure if he read my recommendations for advancing the sports-based youth development movement, he might have included them in his pontifical lecture as well.

So Pope Francis, please consider this a standing invitation to be my Board Member. I'll schedule our first meeting during your trip to America. I'll have 3,000 trained Up2Us Sports coaches there to greet you to show that the reform you call for is underway.

And, I'll start the meeting with a prayer: that more people heed the cry for reform before more kids lose this invaluable platform to develop into healthy and contributing adults.

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Up2Us Sports Founder on Why He Bikes Everywhere in NYC

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-Paul Caccamo Up2Us Sports Founder & CEO

I swerve through Times Square, glide through Herald Square, pedal past the Flat Iron Building, and zoom down 5th Avenue to Washington Square Park.

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I am one of those insane New Yorkers who is a biker. I bike everywhere—to work, to the gym, to the opera, to that bar in the Lower East Side. I also bike to all my funder meetings.

I often arrive windblown and, depending whether or not my chain fell off along the way, with rather embarrassing greasy fingers. But it gives the right impression; after all, I practice what I preach. At a meeting with a foundation, I may be drenched if it was raining, but I'm the most focused person in the room. That's because physical activity is essential for brain function. Not only does it keep us physically fit, but it keeps us mentally alert, focused, and on-task.

It's National Bike Month. National Bike to Work Week is May 11-15 and Bike to Work Day is May 15.  It's a great time for all of us to consider how we implement physical activity in our day-to-day life.  After all, we need to set an example for our children.  We need to advocate for getting kids moving and demand that every school guarantee at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity to every student every day.

Just in New York City, bicycle commuting to and from Manhattan has more than doubled since 2005, more than tripled since 2000, and more than quintupled since 1990. Further proof that people are transitioning to biking comes from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: Over half a million New Yorkers ride a bike at least several times a month. It doesn’t matter if you’re commuting to and from work/school or just taking leisurely rides on the weekends, we love to see this boost in physical activity through biking and hope to see continued upward growth. If you’re a beginner, check out this article on Time.com with tips for first-timers, and you’ll be comfortably cruising in no time.

Happy and safe biking during this month of May!

 

A Must Read From the Up2Us Sports Founder: We Need Our Children to Play Again

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The report discusses flaws in current youth sports programs and provides 12 recommendations for integrating sports-based youth development (SBYD) into communities and youth sports programs across the U.S. SBYD is based on the premise that sports are a critical venue for supporting and encouraging the positive development of youth participants. Download the report here.

“At Up2Us Sports, we’re leading the development, training, and integration of sports-based youth development in youth sports programs across the nation,” said Caccamo. “This report is a substantial starting point for programs, schools, and parents to review and consider integrating key components of SBYD into children’s lives specifically through their involvement in sports.”

A few of the recommendations include:

  • Increase diversity of youth sports

  • Train all coaches in SBYD

  • Reclaim places to play

  • Accredit programs in SBYD

Sports-based youth development incorporates highly trained, trauma-sensitive coaches and intentional skill building activities into sports to provide youth with a place where they feel physically and emotionally safe, can get the recommended amount of physical activity, and learn high impact attributes such as resiliency, determination, and self-confidence.

Up2Us Sports works with a coalition of member organizations to build a national movement through sports in order to defeat the most pressing issues affecting today’s children, such as bullying, gang violence, family problems, lack of support, self-esteem and more.

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What Youth Sports Can Do For the Mentoring Movement

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Did you know, sports could triple the number of mentors in this country? That’s because coaches are the largest untapped source of mentoring in the nation. For one reason, many coaches still see themselves as just that, “coaches” and not as “mentors”. They view their primary goal as teaching their players athletic skills and strategies for winning their game; however, the better coaches embrace their role as mentors. They incorporate techniques for building positive team cultures, strong relationships among players, and life skills counseling into their practices and games. It’s time that we demand this “mentoring" from all coaches. The results will not only be more successful athletes but better students as well.

Literature is increasingly pointing to the lack of character development education among youth as a contributing factor to school dropout rates, youth violence and other negative social behaviors. Coaches are in a unique position to fill the gap in character education. This is because coaches are uniquely able to engender trust among youth, even those youth who have learned not to readily trust adults and authority figures. Coach-mentors can use this trust to provide young people guidance and advice, tackling the difficult decisions of adolescence. Coach-mentors can make their practices an alternative “space", outside of the school and the home, where young people feel more confident testing themselves mentally and physically without fear of judgment or failure. Coach-mentors help their teams develop values like leadership, teamwork, discipline, stick-to-itiveness, and resiliency. These values directly translate to success in the classroom and the community.

But this transition from “coach” to “mentor” will not happen naturally. It will take training to achieve the fullest potential of the estimated 2-3 million coaches in this country.   Up2Us Sports is beginning a national effort to provide this training and certify coaches in sports-based youth development (SBYD).

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SBYD is the merging of athletics and mentoring into an intentional methodology for fostering positive child development. As parents wake up to the examples of poor coaching and the negative impact it has on their sons and daughters, parents should demand SBYD training be integrated into all coach licensing. Schools should require that athletic directors and coaches be SBYD certified so that their coaching reinforces their overall drive for educational excellence.

One day, all coaches should be able to say, “I am a coach, and I am a mentor”. That will be the day several million more adults have joined the mentoring movement to ensure that all American youth have safe and successful pathways to adulthood.

Paul Caccamo Founder & CEO Up2Us Sports

 

 

 

Happy Holidays from Up2Us!

TWB_8733.blog Your gift this holiday season has the potential to give one kid a coach to guide them through the daily challenges they face on the field, in school and in the community. Here's how:

I want you to imagine.

A child who knows that he or she is capable of being someone. This child deep down inside wants to make the right decisions in life…to stay in school…to read out loud in the classroom when the teacher calls on her...to say no to the kids who want him to do drugs or join a gang…but there is no one in that child’s life to encourage him or her to make these kinds of decisions.

This child is not a bad person, but is surrounded by other kids who laugh at education, who are moms at 15, who want him to participate in a drug deal. He does not want to do any of it. But there’s no one there. Not one positive influence. Not one person to believe in him and say: “You don’t have to do that because you are better than that. You are special. You have your whole life in front of you.”

Was that child you? Did an adult tell you that you mattered at a time in your life when you were alone or dealing with a family issue or unsure of yourself? Did a coach encourage you to quietly walk away from trouble and open that math book late at night? Did a coach make you feel you belong, you can accomplish, you are a leader?

This holiday season, I ask you to please change a child’s life by supporting Up2Us. Up2Us believes that one of the most transformative adults in child’s life is a coach. Not just any coach, but an Up2Us coach. A coach who’s trained to use that kid’s love of sports to build a relationship that guides him away from making bad choices.

If you have a son or daughter who plays sports, you know more than anyone that a coach has this kind of influence. That’s why I am building a national workforce of coaches who use the trust they develop with kids to end violence, increase academic participation and inspire future leaders.

It takes no imagination to find the child who sits on a curb in our cities with no one to inspire him or her. I can point this child out in every community in America. But through your caring, you can jump into this picture and change it forever. With your support, I will hire and train a basketball coach, soccer coach, baseball coach, tennis coach, and lacrosse coach, to walk over to that child and say:

“I believe in you.  Let’s play ball.”

It takes only one adult to see the child who wants to be more than the negative behavior that is reinforced all around him.

Please support Up2Us in your holiday giving and change a young person’s life.

Click here to donate. Every child deserves a coach!

Happy Holidays!

Paul Caccamo

 

 

Take That!

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It’s time to end bullying in sports. It’s been more than a month since Sayreville, NJ, caught our national attention as yet another example of bullying in youth sports.   Unfortunately, Sayreville is not alone.  Bullying in sports programs goes undetected in our schools, parks and playgrounds across this nation. Yet, bullying in youth sports is preventable.

Three basic steps to prevention:

  1. Train Coaches
  2. Establish and Enforce Team Codes of Conduct
  3. Inspire Student Athletes to See Sportsmanship as Leadership

Training coaches is by far the most important step.  A trained coach sets the example through their language and through the way they intentionally build positive relationships among their players.   A trained coach creates team traditions such as cheers and songs that emphasize cohesion and unity.   A trained coach knows how to  use practices and game days to develop leadership skills in all players which leads to greater teamwork and mutual respect.   And a trained coach knows exactly what to do if he/she observes or suspects that bullying is taking place.

Up2Us teamed up with The Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation to develop trainings for youth sports coaches to prevent bullying.   You can access more information on these trainings at info@up2us.org or check out our coaching tips on how to make your team bully-free.

At Up2Us, we see sports as a critical tool for developing life skills in our youth.   We view coaches as the most transformative adults for inspiring young people to achieve their personal success on and off the field.   Bullying is neither a life skill or a badge of success.   For National Bullying Awareness Week, I challenge every youth sports coach in the nation to join Up2Us and The Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation in ending bullying on our courts, in our fields, playgrounds, and locker rooms.

 

Paul Caccamo

CEO and Founder

 

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