Top 10 Youth Sports Stories of 2018

Project Play compiled a list of the most important sports stories in 2018 that impacted the largest number of children around the country. They’re about systematic failures and policy improvements, new research and old scandals, emerging trends and longstanding truths. Our subjective list shows that progress is being made. And it’s a reminder that so many challenges remain.

2018 project play summit

The nation's premier gathering at the intersection of youth, sport and health, the 2018 Project Play Summit was held Oct. 16 in Washington D.C. NBA legend Kobe Bryant joined us, along with skateboarding legend Tony Hawk, Olympic track and field champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee, NBC Sports broadcaster Mary Carillo and other U.S. and international trailblazers to help attendees "Think Global, Play Local." Even better: Next steps were taken in building healthy kids and communities through sports, as three digital tools and several major initiatives were launched, and more than a dozen organizations made commitments to action. Check out all the action from the Summit, which again sold out and trended on Twitter.

Healthy Sport Index

For the first time, the public can identify in one place the relative benefits and risks of participating in the 10 most popular high school sports for boys and girls. The Healthy Sport Index combines the best available data and expert analysis while allowing users to customize sport-by-sport results by their own health priorities — because different kids have different needs. Also learn which sports are most complementary to play, for athletic skill development and overall health.

National state of play report

Our annual State of Play report identifies 40 key developments and presents the latest data on sport participation and physical activity rates among youth. The latest report was released in October 2018 and includes a look at the progress made since Project Play launched in 2013.

How to coach kids aggregates resources to train coaches by sport and topic, and includes a new, free 30-minute course on the general principles of coaching children through age 12. Co-developed by Nike and the U.S. Olympic Committee with the help of the Aspen Institute, the resource was inspired by Project Play 2020, a multiyear effort by leading organizations to grow national sport participation rates and related metrics among youth.

Coming Soon: Teamwork Toolkit

In 2019, parents, sport leaders, civic and school leaders, non-profits and others will be able to use the digital platform to help build Sport for All, Play for Life communities. The toolkit draws on knowledge the Aspen Institute has acquired from landscaping the state of play for youth and mobilizing leaders in several cities, counties and regions. Users will have access to the toolkit, which has been developed in partnership with ESPN and Under Armour.

parent checklists

The first and most important leader in the life of a child is the parent. So we created checklists with 10 questions that caregivers can ask themselves, their child, and sport providers that will help build an athlete for life. 

community work

Hundreds of organizations, from the U.S. Olympic Committee to grassroots sports providers, have used Project Play to shape and introduce youth programs. Among them: the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, which is using our expertise to guide grant-making, mobilize leaders and drive collective impact in Southeast Michigan and Western New York.

State of Play: Mobile County

We help organizations at the city, county and regional level assess how well children are being served through sports in their geographic areas. In October 2018, we released our latest report — State of Play: Mobile County, an in-depth report assessing the current state of play for kids and sports in Mobile County, Alabama. The report includes results from a survey of more than 1,700 local youth, and analyzes the challenges and opportunities facing Mobile County. Among the findings: girls have fewer sports opportunities than boys and 26 percent of surveyed youth said they are aware of adults betting on their game result. “We are appreciative of the Aspen Institute’s work in Mobile County and are excited for our local community to have access to the recommendations, which have proven success in the Aspen Institute’s five other markets,” said Jake Peavy, a former Major League Baseball player who helped partner on the report.

Future of Football

More parents are starting their kids in flag football. Some leaders propose holding off on tackle until high school. What are the implications if there was no tackle football, and only flag, until high school? On Jan. 25, we held a panel conversation titled, "Future of Football: Reimagining the Game's Pipeline." Speakers included Dr. Robert Cantu, USA Football CEO Scott Hallenbeck, ex-NFL players Chris Borland and Domonique Foxworth, and Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens. In September 2018, we produced a white paper on the topic, which was explored from five angles and offered recommendations moving forward for football.

Lessons from Norway's olympic dominance

Norway athletes earned a record 39 medals at the Winter Olympics, a stunning 16 more than the United States. Norway is a nation of 5.3 million people, a population not much larger than Greater Detroit. Tom Farrey explores how many of the ideas underpinning Norway's sport system have begun taking hold in the U.S., especially among youth, and resemble Project Play strategies. Norway offers a road map on taking next steps for the U.S. sports model.

shared goals

Launched in September 2017, Project Play 2020 represents the first time that major industry and non-profit organizations have come together to grow sport participation and improve related metrics among youth. Step One: develop tools for coach training and mobilize organizations to promote sport sampling. Read about the first round of mutually reinforcing actions, as well as commitments made through the new Project Play Champions program.

The Playbook

Developed with input from more than 300 experts over two years, our seminal report offers an evidence-based concept of what good looks like in youth sports – and the nation's first framework on how stakeholders work together to grow access for all children, regardless of zip code or ability. The playbook identifies eight strategies for the eight sectors that touch the lives of kids, with 40+ activation ideas.

You’ve built a very powerful roadmap.
— Vivek Murthy, former U.S. Surgeon General

get involved

Join the dialogue on Twitter and Facebook: @AspenInstSports and #ProjectPlay

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