past event

2018 Project Play Summit

Built around the theme “Think Global, Play Local,” the 2018 Project Play Summit brought together domestic and international trailblazers to share ideas on how to build healthy kids and communities through sport. Among the 40+ speakers were sports legends Kobe Bryant, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Tony Hawk, NBC Sports broadcaster Mary Carillo, and many sport leaders and community heroes who have pioneered breakthrough models and programs. The nation’s premier gathering of leaders at the intersection of youth, sport and health, the Summit sold out for the fourth consecutive year, with 425+ people attending at the Knight Conference Center at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Another 75,000 watched via Facebook livestream. The hashtag #ProjectPlay trended on Twitter.

It was a day of impact. A total of 43 organizations announced or were recognized for making commitments to action that align with the Project Play framework. Free digital tools were introduced that were developed by or with the Aspen Institute: to train youth coaches, help parents find healthy sport options for their children, and mobilize local leaders (Teamwork Toolkit, the focus of the Post-Summit Workshop and a resource that will be released publicly in early 2019). Aspen also released its annual report taking measure of key developments in youth sports, State of Play: 2018, and its sixth community landscape, State of Play: Mobile County, Alabama.

Watch all of the Summit sessions

Read a recap of the Summit


Welcome     WATCH
Mary Carillo, Broadcaster, NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics)
Dan Porterfield, President and CEO, Aspen Institute (@DanPorterfield)

Companion content: “Mary Carillo Talks Youth Sports,” by Risa Isard

State of Play: 2018    WATCH
Tom Farrey, Executive Director, Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program (@TomFarrey)

Farrey assesses key developments from the past year, and places the challenges that lie ahead in historical context.

Companion content: State of Play: 2018 report, by the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program

Ask Kids What They Want: What if Youth Designed Youth Sports?     WATCH

We call it youth sports, but it’s designed by adults, and if we’re honest with ourselves, for adults. Adults pick the teams, choose the coaches, and determine everything from the rules and uniform colors, to who makes which teams and plays which positions. Kids entertain us, and we hope they develop in certain ways, athletically and otherwise, through sports. But what if kids called the shots? Created experiences that met their social and emotional needs? What would youth sports look like then? And who better to moderate this conversation than Kobe Bryant, who has made the social and emotional lives of kids playing sports a focus of his post-NBA work.

Companion content: “Kobe Bryant: Project Play Should ‘Change the World’ of Youth Sports,” by Tom Farrey

Moderator: Kobe Bryant, NBA Legend (@KobeBryant)

  • Zoe Barlow, 13-year-old soccer referee from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma
  • Ka’olu Holt, 13-year-old Little League World Series champion from Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Shawkierra Mills, 12-year-old Special Olympics track athlete from Detroit, Michigan
  • Owen Norwood, 11-year-old multisport athlete from Mobile, Alabama
    Post-panel Project Play Champion commitment to action made by Susan Crown Exchange

Think Small: Big Ideas from Small Countries     WATCH

At the 2018 Winter Olympics, Norway won more medals (39) than any country in the history of the winter games. Not bad, for a nation with fewer citizens (5.3 million) than the state of Minnesota (5.6 million). How did they do it? By redesigning their sport system to promote development over winning, among other interventions introduced over the past generation. In this session, one of the architects of the sports system in Norway describes the blueprint that was put in place, which in turn has contributed to Norway’s status as one of the healthiest and most active nations in the world. He is joined by other international trailblazers who share breakthroughs made in other countries, as a means of helping U.S. stakeholders think out of the box as they develop their plans and programs.

Companion content: “How Norway Won the Winter Olympics,” by Tom Farrey

Moderator: Laurence Chalip, Professor, Sports Recreation Studies and Sports Management, George Mason University


  • Inge Andersen, Former Secretary General, Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sport (Norway)
  • Patrick Massey, Project Manager, Portas Consulting (UK)
  • Matt Young, Founder, 60 Minute Kids Club (Canada) (@mattyoung101)

Reintroduce Free Play: Organizing for Creative Expression     WATCH

In this session, we explore how to introduce sport activity that is adult-created but child-owned. And how to apply the principles of “guided play” to all populations, including kids with autism. 

Moderator: Gwen Oxenham, author, Finding the Game: Three Years, Twenty-Five Countries and the Search for Pickup Soccer (@gwenoxenham)


  • Constance Beverley, CEO, National Winter Sports Education Foundation
  • Matt Bowers, Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, University of Texas at Austin (@mattbowersphd)
  • Izzy Paskowitz, Co-Founder, Surfer’s Healing

Train All Coaches: Can a Free Tool Change the Game?     WATCH

Through Project Play 2020, the US Olympic Committee and Nike have developed a free, online resource “How to Coach Kids” — a 30-minute experience that provides new or novice youth sports coaches confidence, inspiration and actionable tips to deliver great experiences to their under 12 teams. This session will explore the need to meet coaches where they are at, build them up, and how this tool can be utilized to fill an existing gap.

Companion content: How to Coach Kids, a new website in partnership with the USOC, Nike and the Aspen Institute

Moderator: Craig Morris, Chief Executive, Community Tennis, U.S. Tennis Association


  • Tierra McIntosh, Volunteer Coach, Volo City Kids Foundation
  • Wayne Moss, Executive Director, National Council of Youth Sports
  • Ben Reed, Specialist, Sports and Recreation, YMCA of the USA (@BenReedYMCA)
  • Chris Snyder, Director of Coaching Education, U.S. Olympic Committee

Revitalize In-Town Leagues: The Promise of Mixed Gender Play     WATCH

Traditionally in many community leagues, children are separated into gender-specific teams as soon as they enter grade school. But do they need to be? Increasingly, leagues are pushing back on that orthodoxy, questioning the notion of a “level playing field” to have kids of all genders play on the same field. Whether an effort to increase girls’ participation in a traditionally male-dominated sport (football) or a response to a funding cut that required a creative solution to keep fielding teams, practitioners and researchers recognize the promise of mixed gender sports to get and keep kids active and healthy and create powerful spaces for kids to learn some of the most important social-emotional lessons. But how did a Milwaukee-based soccer team and a Washington, DC-founded flag football team actually do it?

Companion content: “Beyond a Level Playing Field,” Aspen Insight podcast hosted by Risa Isard

Moderator: Risa Isard, Program Manager, Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program (@RisaLovesSports)


  • Kate Carpenter, America SCORES Milwaukee Executive Director, (@Kate_JCarpenter)
  • Carl Ehrlich, Founder and CEO, Flag Star Football
  • Marj Snyder, Senior Director, Research and Programs at the Women’s Sports Foundation (@MarjSnyder)


Soccer in the U.S.: What Story Can We Tell by the 2026 World Cup?    WATCH

This was a tough summer for anyone who cares about soccer in the U.S. The men’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup, and on the day of the championship game won by France a front-page story in the New York Times described a participation drop among kids. But the seeds of systems-level reform are starting to take hold. In this session, top officials from the U.S. Soccer Federation and French Football Federation share ideas on how to build a system that promotes both development and participation. Can we train more coaches and make more room for late bloomers, kids from lower-income homes, and free play – as France did in transforming its youth model?

Companion content: “How France Really Won the World Cup,” by Tom Farrey

Moderator: Tom Farrey, Executive Director, Aspen Institute
Featured Speakers:

  • Ludovic Debru, Head of Institutional Affairs, French Football Federation
  • Nico Romeijn, Chief Sport Development Officer, U.S. Soccer Federation    

Post-panel Project Play Champion commitments to action made by Ryan Mooney, U.S. Soccer Federation; Chris Moore, US Youth Soccer; and USA Bobsled and Skeleton CEO Darrin Steele, representing the Association of Chief Executives of Sport (ACES)

The Meaning of Play, with Kobe Bryant     WATCH
Moderator: Kevin Carroll, author of Rules of the Red Rubber Ball (@kckatalyst)

Two guys from Philly riff on their deep ideas about the power of play, and how to address challenges in contemporary youth sports.

Companion content: “Kobe Bryant Tells Sports Parents to Get Out of the Way,” by Jon Solomon, and “Coach Kobe: Bryant Shares Philosophies on How to Reach Kids,” by the Associated Press


Encourage Sport Sampling: How to Use the World’s First Healthy Sport Index     WATCH

Panelists explore the value and features of the new Healthy Sport Index website and help attendees understand how to use the data-driven resource.

Companion content: Healthy Sport Index website and TIME magazine coverage

Moderator: Jon Solomon, Editorial Director, The Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program (@JonSolomonAspen)


  • Laura Robbins, Senior Vice President, Hospital for Special Surgery
  • Michael Kanters, Professor and Coordinator, Masters of Parks, Recreation, Tourism & Sport Management at North Carolina State University
  • Michele LaBotz, Member, Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, American Academy of Pediatrics (@mlabotz)

Design for Development: Restructuring Competition for Better Outcomes     WATCH

The structure of youth sports drives the culture of youth sports. Allow coaches to keep kids on the bench or sideline for most of the game, and parents get frustrated. Rank tennis players starting at age 10, and pressures grow on children to specialize early in that sport. In this session, innovators share lessons learned about what happened when they adjusted rules and competition formats that prioritized development over winning.

Companion content: “Why Project Play Recommends Equal Playing Time for Kids,” by Jon Solomon

Moderator: Anya Alvarez, Producer, Major League Girls


  • André Lachance, Business and Sport Development Director – Women’s National Team Head Coach, Baseball Canada (@alachance)
  • Ken Martel, Technical Director, American Development Model, USA Hockey (@kenmhockey)
  • Lora Webster, Paralympic Gold Medalist, Sitting Volleyball

Emphasize Prevention: What Next for the U.S. Olympic Movement?     WATCH

The U.S. Olympic Committee has new leadership in the wake of the conviction of USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nasser for decades of sexual abuse. When hired, new CEO Sarah Hirshland said, “We must protect, support and empower athletes, young and old, elite and beginner. Olympic and Paralympic sport in the United States must be a shining example, able to provide athletes with the benefits of participation in an environment free from abuse of any kind. The USOC has made great strides in this area and I look forward to carrying on that critically important work.” But how best to do that – while also helping athletes develop their talent? The answer, some say, lies in the USOC and its affiliated National Governing Bodies of sports simply living up to the mandate of the Amateur Sports Act, which in 1978 asked those bodies to develop not just elite athletes – but coordinate development of our sports system, down to the grassroots. This session explores systems-level reforms that can be made to prevent all forms of abuse for athletes at all levels. 

Companion content: “No Need to Amend Amateur Sports Act,” by Mike Harrigan in Sports Business Journal

Moderator: Tom Farrey, The Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program Executive Director


  • Alan Ashley, Chief Sport Performance, U.S. Olympic Committee
  • Donna de Varona, Olympic Gold Medalist Swimmer
  • Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, CEO, Laureus Sport for Good Foundation (@benitafmosley)

Fast Break Ideas: Unexpected Solutions     WATCH

As a fun, innovative method developed in Japan as Pecha Kucha, our Fast Break Ideas presentations cover unexpected talent, ideas or solutions to a problem. It’s a play on what former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told our team one day: using sport as a tool of public health is an unexpected solution. And people like unexpected solutions, he said. So here we are. These Fast Break Ideas presentations at the Summit highlight multiple partners exploring innovative ways to ensure all youth have access to sport and pump big ideas into the bloodstream in a compelling, new format.


  • Qiana Patterson, Senior Director of Public Private Partnerships, HopSkipDrive
  • David Ridpath, Associate Professor of Sports Business, Ohio University (@drridpath)
  • Doug Rifenburg, Executive Director, Victory Sports Outreach, Inc. (@VictorySportsGO)
  • Trish Sylvia, Founder, National Center for Safety Initiatives

Physical Activity Break
Steve Boyle, Founder and Director, 2-4-1 Sports (@steveboyle241)

Project Play Announcements + Project Play Champions     WATCH
Announcements of the release of State of Play: Mobile report, the communities (Seattle/King County + the State of Hawai’i) that Aspen will help landscape with partners in 2019, and the rest of the 2018 cohort of Project Play Champion organizations.

Companion content: List of organizations recognized as 2019 Project Play Champions and State of Play: Mobile County report

Saturday Night Lights, with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. (@ManhattanDA)     WATCH
Moderator: Luis Fernando Llosa, Co-Founder, Whole Child Sports

“Saturday Night Lights” refers to an innovative program that provides for open gyms and league play during the high-crime hours of Friday and Saturday nights. Vance shares the story of how East Harlem has laid the groundwork for unexpected municipal leaders to lead the way in growing access to sport for youth. In this case, the District Attorney’s office uses funds confiscated in drug arrests to support positive community programming through sports.

Companion content: State of Play: Harlem report, by the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program

Many Sports For All, with Jackie Joyner-Kersee (@JJoynerKersee)     WATCH
Moderator: Mary Carillo, Broadcaster, NBC Sports

Winner of three gold, one silver, and two bronze Olympic medals in track and field over four Olympic Games, Joyner-Kersee has been recognized by Sports Illustrated as the greatest female athlete of all-time. In 1988, she set the world record in the heptathlon – a seven-event sport that includes a sprint, hurdles, long and high jumps, throwing, and middle-distance run. And to date nobody has done it better than she has. Thirty years later, she still owns that world record. She and Carillo explore her career and her work supporting children through sports.

Call for Leadership: How to Empower Parents as Agents of Change?     WATCH

Parents believe in the power of sports and want their child to get and stay involved, but they’re often lost on how to do that. They don’t know what to believe, or where to turn, for good information. This session explores how to give them guidance on how to make good decisions with their kids. It starts with 10-minute discussion with a parent, then brings in members of Project Play 2020 to introduce the new Parent Engagement Campaign and share thoughts on how to address these gaps.


  • Joe Figini, Washington D.C. parent of 11-year-old son
  • Andi Nielsen, Communications and Marketing Director, Target (@AndreaNielsen)
  • Jessica Berman, Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility, National Hockey League
  • Jenny Storms, Chief Marketing Officer, NBC Sports

In post-panel announcement, Kevin Martinez of ESPN announces the Teamwork Toolkit, sponsored by ESPN and Under Armour.

Landing with Impact, with Tony Hawk (@tonyhawk)     WATCH
Moderator: Mary Carillo, broadcaster, NBC Sports

Skateboarding legend Tony Hawk is the most well-known action sports athlete on the planet. His Tony Hawk Foundation has awarded over $7.4 million in grants to help build over 600 skatepark projects in the United States. World champion for 12 straight years and the first skater to complete the elusive 900, Hawk continues to wow audiences around the world. He is also known as a New York Times best-selling author, the namesake on a billion-dollar video game franchise and founder of one of the longest running skateboard brands in the industry. In this conversation, Hawk shares lessons learned in using an athlete’s brand to make a contribution to getting and keeping kids active through sports.

Closing Comments + Adjourn to Networking Reception     WATCH

Erwin Tan of the AARP announces that the organization will work with Aspen to identify ways to bring more play to grownups. Tom Farrey thanks all attendees and staff, as well as organizations that are driving change in youth sports.

Event information
Tue Oct 16, 2018
8:00am - 7:00pm EDT
The Newseum's
Knight Conference Center
555 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC