Around the Institute

Project Play Summit Wrap-Up: News, Quotes, and More

September 7, 2017  • Sports & Society Program

It’s time for a new scoreboard for sports. The first day of the 2017 Project Play Summit brought together over 400 leaders to take measure of the nation’s state of play and chart next steps in building healthy communities through sport. Together, we explored alternate ways to measure success through emerging metrics, introduced major new initiatives, and heard from many speakers, including a keynote conversation with Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred.

The Benefit of Playing Multiple Sports
September 7, 2017 • Jon Solomon


The Aspen Institute formally rolled out Project Play 2020, which will be guided by the Project Play framework of eight strategies for eight sectors. Project Play 2020 will initially focus on training all coaches and encouraging sport sampling, with members developing shared and mutually reinforcing activities over the next three years that will be determined as work groups define gaps and opportunities. The founding members of Project Play 2020 are Nike, NBC Sports Group, Target, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, Dick’s Sporting Goods, U.S. Olympic Committee, Hospital for Special Surgery, PGA of America, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, New York Road Runners, National Fitness Foundation, American College of Sports Medicine, Ketchum Sports & Entertainment, Sports Facilities Advisory, Sports & Fitness Industry Association, and the Global Obesity Prevention Center at Johns Hopkins University. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention serves as Technical Liaison to the group.

The announcement was lauded on stage by Craig Robinson, New York Knicks senior executive and brother of former First Lady Michelle Obama, who made an appeal at last year’s Project Play Summit for industry to rally to grow sport participation for underserved kids. “It is absolutely amazing how fast that this formidable group got Project Play 2020 off the ground so quickly,” Robinson said.

Don Wright, Acting Assistant Secretary of Health, said that Health and Human Services secretary Tom Price will make childhood obesity and sport participation an HHS priority.

“This is truly an exciting announcement,” Wright said. “We look forward to supporting and uplifting the shared goals of Project Play 2020.”

Read more about Project Play 2020 and why it’s needed.

Project Play 2020

Founding members of Project Play 2020

Project Play: Baltimore released an in-depth State of Play: Baltimore Report, which provides the Aspen Institute’s findings and recommendations for youth sports in East Baltimore. Read the report here.

The report includes results of an exclusive survey of youth in East Baltimore, 40 findings on factors that shape their access to quality sport activity, and maps that highlight the connection between the loss of recreation centers and areas where gun violence rates are highest. The report offers guidance for Baltimore stakeholders in using a new city fund to bolster recreational opportunities to keep children and teens active and involved in their communities. Baltimore’s Children and Youth Fund is a “game changer” and represents a major opportunity to build a healthier community, the report said.

Anyone interested in connecting to Project Play: Baltimore should contact program coordinator Andre Fountain at

Project Play is teaming with the Community Foundation of South Alabama and the Jake Peavy Foundation to examine closing the opportunity gap for youth sports in South Alabama. The initiative is called State of Play Mobile County, where the child poverty rate is 28 percent and only 69 percent of all residents have easy access to physical activity locations.

Jake Peavy

Jake Peavy, former baseball player

“Having a chance to use the resources of the Aspen Institute and be a part of Project Play is special to me, and it’s very special to me because I’m a dad of four boys,” said Peavy, a former World Series champion pitcher and Cy Young Award winner.

Peavy has not pitched this year. “I am going to go back to playing baseball,” he said. “You’ll see me sometime soon on a major league mound.”

The Aspen Institute unveiled Project Play: Harlem, joining Baltimore as the Sports & Society Program’s latest model community. It’s a multi-year initiative to help stakeholders increase youth sport opportunities in East Harlem, with the support of Harris Family Charitable Foundation, Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, and Mount Sinai Health System.

First, the Aspen Institute will capture the State of Play in East Harlem through an exclusive report to be published in Winter 2017. Then, local stakeholders will be convened to share findings, identify opportunities to fill gaps, and connect community organizations with potential partners. Anyone interested in connecting to Project Play: Harlem should contact program coordinator Ranya Bautista at

Laureus Sport for Good Foundation USA (Laureus USA) announced that it will be launching Sport for Good New York City and Sport for Good Chicago in January 2018. (Watch the announcement here.) These place-based initiatives will drive collaboration between local organizations that are strengthening their communities through sport. Nike will be the funding sponsor of Sport for Good New York City. Alongside its 2018 chapter expansion, Laureus USA will also launch the Sport for Good League – an online community focused on the use of sport to create positive social change. If you are interested in joining the league, sign up here to receive updates.

The Aspen Institute recognized one group per Project Play strategy for taking a new, meaningful and specific action.

  • Ask Kids What They Want: Parks and People is launching six new sports leagues based in part on youth surveys.
  • Reintroduce Free Play: Joy of the People will reach 1,200 underserved kids with free, fun soccer events across Minnesota for the 2018 World Cup.
  • Encourage Sport Sampling: Seacoast Public Health Network will have a new program reducing the stigma of families asking for financial aid.
  • Revitalize In-Town Leagues: Volo City Kids Foundation is launching new, free rec programming in Washington, D.C., that focuses on development and skill and provides after-game meals for players and their families.
  • Think Small: LA84 Foundation and Street Soccer USA are partnering to connect at-risk/homeless youth to soccer and services.
  • Design for Development: USA Wrestling is revamping training in 2018-19 to emphasize physical literacy, movement and health skills.
  • Train All Coaches: The National Fitness Foundation will invest up to $50,000 in training and grants for quality PE for Project Play: Baltimore.
  • Emphasize Prevention: Hospital for Special Surgery will launch free digital education for youth coaches replicating ACL workshops it’s been conducting.
  • Call for Leadership: Winning Communities will train high school and college students in five communities to lead health and sports programs.
Watch/Listen Project Play Summit Highlights
They Said It

Harold Reynolds

Harold Reynolds, former baseball player

“This is the least active generation in history and we should never get comfortable with that.”

Caitlin Morris, Nike General Manager of Global Community Impact

“Some of you crazy parents are making these kids go nuts, playing (one) sport. I want you playing all kinds of different sports.”

Harold Reynolds, former MLB player

“Parents should assume nothing about who’s interacting with their kids. It’s amazing the interactivity in which parents engage in their child’s life outside of sport … but more and more parents kind of hand off their children to a particular program or coach without any understanding of the qualifications that that adult has to interact with the child and make sure that experience is a good one.”

Steve Stenersen, U.S. Lacrosse CEO

“Just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I can’t do sports. Yeah, I’m a little girly. I do worry about my hair because I don’t want to look a mess. But the thing is, when you play sports, it’s like playing with your own family. You meet new people every day.”

Nina Locklear, 11-year-old from Baltimore

“Seventy percent of African Americans in Detroit do not know how to swim. About 48 perent of Hispanic folks do not know how to swim. … It’s a very serious item.”

James Nicholson, chair of YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit.

“Let your kids have an open mind and learn to swim on their own without pushing your fears on them.”

Nikki Cobbs, swim coach at Baltimore’s Dunbar High School.

“We have to be mindful that just saying go out to play is nice and nostalgic, but the reality is for many, many children, unless we can create a safe environment that their parents feel safe for them, then that’s going to be a very challenging thing to overcome.”

Ed Foster-Simeon, U.S. Soccer Foundation President/CEO

“What we see often is criticism of our program that we’re not real baseball – it’s just rec league baseball, it’s just community baseball, the better players are in travel teams. Some people get irritated with that. I don’t. I actually tell our people we should wear that as a badge of honor. We always get caught up in what’s the next thing for 9-year-olds.”

Steve Keener, Little League Baseball President and CEO

“I’ve never been part of any industry that’s moved at this rate – 40 inbound calls per week on new (youth sports facility) projects, most of which shouldn’t be built in the original concept as shared with us.”

Dev Pathik, Sports Facilities Advisory CEO

“Women are more detailed. They’re better coaches. … We have to open up our minds that an athlete is an athlete and if you can coach, you can coach.”


“If I was a young kid I wouldn’t know what he was doing besides making his kids’ shoes and looking cool while doing it, and yelling at a female is just a side product. Since I graduated from Stanford, I look at it as what are you doing to these children? Are you creating a path that’s going to be helpful to the kids that don’t make it? Your sons are the ones that are privileged to make it, and the reality is most people don’t.”

Chiney Ogwumike, WNBA player,on controversial AAU basketball coach LaVar Ball’s rant against a female referee this summer.

“LaVar Ball, if he was in our (Little League) program, would have been suspended for two games. … We need to take those kinds of things seriously.”

Keener, on LaVar Ball’s rant against a referee.

“If we want kids to be able to have free play, if we want them to just go out and run around and do things, we have to address the root issue, which is that the parents need to be secure enough in that they can afford their kid not to get a scholarship.”

Chris Kluwe, former NFL player

“The irony is for all the money flowing into travel ball and in youth sports, it’s not actually more professional, it’s just more commercial. Most coaches are still not trained in the key competencies of working with kids.”

Tom Farrey, Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program Executive Director.

“(What) I don’t like about coaches is putting pressure on you and they’re always thinking you can win or you’ll do very well. But if, say for example, if they put you in a play back to back or you’ve got to run an event back to back and you’re really tired, you wouldn’t do so well.”

– Brenton Baker, 10, Buffalo, NY

Project Play Summit Media Coverage
  • The Washington Post: Youth study shows declining participation, rising costs and unqualified coaches.
  • The Atlantic: What’s lost when only rich kids play sports
  • The Baltimore Sun: Aspen Institute aims to help Baltimore youth fill recreation gaps
  • The Undefeated: Study shows no one is asking Baltimore youth what sports they want to play
  • Business Insider: Industry leaders rally to grow youth sports participation
  • Sports Business Journal: Sports stakeholders join forces in effort to stem decline in youth sports participation
  • NewHotGood: Highlights from the Project Play Summit and the Aspen Institute’s work
Project Play Summit Social Media

The Project Play Summit trended nationally on social media during Sept. 6. The hashtag #ProjectPlay alone generated 24 million impressions and was seen by nearly six million people. More than 3,100 posts with that hashtag were made by 1,250 people – double from last year when First Lady Michelle Obama was featured.