Opportunity, Motivation, and Access: A Vision for U.S. Youth Sports

Ripple Effect
4 min readMar 23, 2022

By Debbie McCarron, Deputy Director of Communications and Outreach

As we come to daylight saving time and warmer weather, my walks at a local park are filled with signs that spring sports season is here. Lacrosse, soccer, softball, and baseball teams are on the fields practicing for their upcoming season. It takes me back to my own son and daughter’s participation in sports. Those years were formative ones for them, learning teamwork and relationship building, building confidence and a strong work ethic, and staying physically active. It is why I was so proud of the work that Ripplers did to support the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) and their National Youth Sports Strategy (NYSS). Recently, ODPHP published a blog post capturing some of the things their stakeholders learned from collaborating at the virtual workshops supported by Ripple Effect. The series brought youth sports stakeholders together to network and share ways to move the mission of the NYSS forward.

Over the past two years, we have supported the NYSS, whose aim is to unite U.S. youth sports culture around a shared vision: that one day, all youth will have the opportunity, motivation, and access to play sports.

As a parent of two kids, I experienced firsthand how participating in sports, either on a team or individually, can positively impact children. I spent weekends at children’s soccer, baseball, and basketball games, and I also personally mentored and guided many children through martial arts practice. It certainly “takes a village,” and it is gratifying to see so many people and organizations dedicated to promoting youth participation in sports and healthy lifestyles for our kids. Through my kids’ participation in group sports and my involvement with individual sports, I know that there is a sport that fits the needs and interests of every child — one where they can develop, grow, and cultivate healthy lifestyle habits while reaching their full potential.

For all these reasons, I was proud to work with and lead a cross-functional team from Ripple Effect that assisted ODPHP with the development and facilitation of virtual workshops for the NYSS. The series brought together stakeholders, organizers, and youth sports leaders for a day of listening, learning, and collaboration all focused on the issues surrounding access to youth sports. We supported our colleagues at the NYSS in formulating agendas, providing facilitation services and technical support, and developing comprehensive workshop summaries and notes. It was a massive collective effort for the team, but it was incredibly gratifying work. Each workshop left me invigorated and hopeful for the future of youth sports. It also reminded me how fortunate I am to raise my children in an environment where participation in sports is not restricted by access to safe play spaces, facilities, or cost prohibitions. Unfortunately, not all children have that opportunity, but the committed professionals who joined these meetings and the NYSS aim to change that.

While the workshops themselves focused on structural challenges that exist for youth sports programs, what made these sessions so impactful was hearing the stories of success from the organizations as well as the personal anecdotes of the lives that have been positively affected by youth sports. As a proponent of youth sports myself — martial arts, in particular — the passion and dedication in the room to keep children safe, healthy, and active was heartwarming.

One example of this was during the workshop of Pacific Northwest states. Attendees heard about an initiative to incorporate archery into Alaska’s physical education curriculum. The archery program provides skills, recreation, and bonding experiences for children who live in some of our country’s remotest regions, including Alaska’s tribal youth. Every year, this program hosts a virtual tournament for 300–800 kids, providing an opportunity to compete and learn that wouldn’t otherwise exist.

Similarly, an organization in Kentucky shared how it uses health equity data to identify at-risk children and tailor sports programming to them. These programs and countless others demonstrate the real and lasting impact that sports can have on kids’ lives.

In the end, participants left with a renewed passion for the NYSS vision of uniting the youth sports culture through inclusivity in opportunities, motivation, and access. Participants also took with them an optimistic outlook on the future of youth sports and access to resources to help them perform better. Participants left the workshops even more committed to finding solutions to their many shared challenges — challenges such as lack of funding and awareness, cost barriers for participation, and limited facilities and resources. They committed to finding solutions to these problems and expanding access to youth sports to even more children — a goal that I found inspirational. They even requested future workshops!

There is undeniable value in children participating in youth sports programs, including team building, confidence boosting, lasting friendships, and attainment of “move” goals. Youth sports play a vital role in the lives of local communities and children’s health. I am very proud to support this work through Ripple Effect and look forward to seeing what this national initiative accomplishes next.

Want to learn more about the recent NYSS workshops? Check out the blog post from ODPHP giving their perspective and insight on the Champions workshop we organized and facilitated.