Grades Released on the State of Play for Youth Sports in US

June 21, 2016

Today, the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program released the State of Play: 2016, which shows how well stakeholders are serving children and communities through sports.

Contact: Risa Isard
Aspen Institute Sports and Society Program | 202.736.2916

Washington DC, June 20, 2016 – Today, the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program released a new report, State of Play: 2016, an annual snapshot of how well stakeholders are serving children and communities through sports. The 21-page report is the latest resource offered by the program’s Project Play initiative, which provides thought leadership to make sport accessible and affordable to all kids.

The report can be viewed at:

Among the key findings: (1) The percentage of youth physically active to a healthy level through sports fell again last year, even as sport participation among 6 to 12 year-olds rose; (2) federal support for recreation infrastructure grew, while gaps in access to sport in low-income areas became more apparent; (3) major sport organizations rallied around promoting multi-sport play, as the number of team sports played by the average child fell; and (4) most coaches are still not trained in safety and other key areas.

“We’re excited to offer this report to the wide variety of constituencies, from parents to policymakers to sport leaders, who have an interest in getting kids off the couch without running them into the ground,” said Tom Farrey, executive director of the Sports & Society Program. “It’s one-stop shopping for understanding the landscape of youth sport today, and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.”

In January 2015, the program released Sport for All, Play for Life: A Playbook to Get Every Kid in the Game, a framework for action that US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called a “powerful roadmap” for innovation and cross-sector collaboration. The State of Play: 2016 report highlights 40+ key developments since then – and offers grades for how well stakeholders are doing, issued by thought leaders who participated in the 2016 Project Play Summit on May 17, 2016 in Washington, DC.

The grades, collected through an online survey and on-site, electronic polling:

Stakeholders’ 8 Areas of Opportunity Grade
1 – Ask Kids What They Want: Understanding the needs of kids and building their voice into the decision-making process around youth sports D
2 – Reintroduce Free Play: Making room for less-structured activity D+
3 – Encourage Sport Sampling: Exposing kids to a variety of sports, and not asking them to specialize early in any one sport C-
4 – Revitalize In-Town Leagues: Supporting community-based options C
5 – Think Small: Being creative in the use and development of play spaces C
6 – Design for Development: Delivering age-appropriate programs C-
7 – Train All Coaches: Training in key competencies in working with kids C-               
8 – Emphasize Prevention: Preventing brain and other injuries C-

Overall, participants at the Summit issued an average grade of C- when asked, “What grade do you give stakeholders in getting kids active through sports?” A total of 185 of the summit’s 450 attendees voted on that question, and 745 votes were cast on all topics. By crowdsourcing the grades through the informal poll, Project Play was able to capture the collective mindset of thought leaders at the Summit, who came from each of the eight key sectors including many community recreation providers.

The State of Play: 2016 report includes the latest participation rates of children in team sports, as captured by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. It also highlights projections from the Global Obesity Prevention Center at Johns Hopkins University, developed for Project Play and introduced at the Summit, on the economic and health benefits of getting more children active through sports – $20 billion in direct medical costs saved and $32 billion in productivity losses saved, if just half of kids get and stay active.

At the Summit, First Lady Michelle Obama said, “This has to become a priority in our society. …So whatever the dollar figure is, as a society, as taxpayers and as corporate America, we should figure out how much that costs and then pay for it. Period.” Excerpts of the conversation with her brother Craig Robinson and his ESPN colleague Michael Wilbon are featured in the report.

Video and other event materials can be found on the Project Play website:

The Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program thanks its many supporters of the 2016 Project Play Summit, including lead partners: Nike, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Harris Family Charitable Foundation, Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, Mount Sinai Hospital, and the President’s Council on Fitness Sports & Nutrition.


The Aspen Institute is a nonpartisan forum for values-based leadership and the exchange of ideas. Based in Washington, DC, the Institute also has campuses in Aspen, CO., and on the Wye River in eastern Maryland, and maintains offices in New York City and several other cities.

The mission of the Sports & Society Program is to convene leaders, facilitate dialogue, and inspire solutions that help sports serve the public interest. Launched in 2013, Project Play is a multi-stage effort to provide stakeholders with the thought leadership to help sport build healthy communities, starting with access to quality sport activity for all children.

Twitter: @AspenInstSports #ProjectPlay


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