Participation in youth sports is dropping, and the Aspen Institute is playing defense on the trend.
Aspen’s venerable think tank wonders why kids aren’t playing like they used to.
It is one of the most impactful television spots of the year: A camera tracks a kid from behind as he takes the stage before a room full of journalists to announce his “retirement” from sports. The boy lists a litany of reasons why he will stop playing, before he even begins—pressure from parents and coaches ranks at the top. The video, which has aired on ESPN’s Monday Night Football, Major League Baseball games and platforms of Amazon Sports, is the first mass market outreach of the Aspen Institute’s Project Play (aspenprojectplay.org) campaign, aimed to keep children in sports as national statistics indicate they’re dropping out at earlier ages.
Tom Farrey, the founder of the Aspen Institute’s innovative Sports and Society Program, has always been about play—first, as an award-winning print journalist; then digital; then broadcast journalism focusing on the world of sports and games; and, now, as he shepherds Project Play on an international stage.
Established in 2013, Project Play provides a place for stakeholders in sports to come together and discuss the issues of youth participation in society. “We needed to create a conversation and develop frameworks to address the way we relate to sports in America. And Aspen provides the perfect opportunity to do that,” he said in a recent interview from Romania, where he was visiting an institute affiliate implementing their own Project Play initiative.
This summer, the Sports and Society Program hosted a track at the Aspen Ideas Festival exploring the limits of human athletic achievement. High profile athletes (NBA star Kevin Love and NFL quarterback Matt Ryan), sports scientists and business leaders convened to deliberate on a wide variety of topics at the confab.
And, in September, the Aspen Institute Project Play Summit convened 500-plus industry leaders in Detroit with workshops focused on a broad range of sports-related topics, from the financing of public trails in communities to reforming broken organizations like the USA Gymnastics program. “We, as Americans, believe in the power of sports. But we need to look to the future to answer the big questions,” Farrey says.
Project Play will continue to ask the big questions of sponsors, athletes, parents and, ultimately, kids as it moves forward.
“I’d like to see parents who don’t pay to see their kids win, who don’t try to fuel arguments because they may have lost or their kid may not have won the meet.”–Daniel Solomon, 12, at the Project Play Summit in Detroit
Photography by: Anna Stonehouse courtesy of The Aspen Times