Recap: Collaborative Models for Equity and Accessibility

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There is a growing accessibility gap in youth sports that will only be exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis. Entities like the PLAY Sports Coalition and others are showing that there is power in collaboration over competition in order to ensure that all kids have access to great youth sports experiences. Our discussion explored the ways in which club & travel organizations, pro teams & leagues, sports-based youth development, and community organizations can create a model that not only increases participation, but also shows that you can do well by doing good. LeagueApps President Jeremy Goldberg moderated our conversation with the following panelists:



Pharlone Toussaint, Program Officer at the Laureus Foundation USA, kicked off the conversation by cutting to two core issues that youth organizations are facing today: accessible transportation and financial resources. Well-intentioned organizations all across the country are being forced to think creatively, both in terms of how they stretch a dollar and how their players go about traveling to practices, tournaments, and games. This isn’t a new hurdle being thrust upon the youth sports community, but it remains a foundational element necessary for organizations to truly be inclusive to all children who want to play. In Pharlone’s work with Laureus Sport for Good Cities, which encourages space-based collective impact in New Orleans, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and LA, the desire to collaborate and connect to solve the challenges in youth sports is very real and has been successful to date.


Tom Farrey has a perfect vantage point to understand the entire youth sports experience in America. As the Director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program he is keenly aware of the growing divide in youth sports and the factors that are driving kids away from sports. But Farrey views the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity for the entire economic equation of youth sports to be reconsidered. Budgets are being slashed on the local, state, and federal levels which means that resources from Parks and Recreation departments may no longer be available to kids. The same is true of YMCAs and other low-cost or free options. “Think of this (time) not as an opportunity to optimize your game or improve it, but let’s think of this as a reset. What is the next model for sports that we want to build in this country? One that is aligned with the needs of all children and all communities. And I believe we can do it,” encouraged Farrey. 


Kate Carpenter, the Executive Director of America Scores Milwaukee, extolled the virtues of sports-based youth development and how COVID-19 has forced organizations to go virtual and experience new things. “We had 300 kids participate in the Soccer Without Borders Stay-At-Home Season. That opportunity exposed pay-to-play kids to community service, and a different form of competition. These new initiatives won’t disappear, I believe these things will keep growing,” remarked Carpenter. The lessons learned from surviving the COVID-19 pandemic may end up uniting more children on the field and courts moving forward than dividing them. 


Tim Ryerson, the Executive Director of Ellicott City SC and creator of Get on the Bus echoed Toussaint’s statement that you will survive if you give back. He even took that a step further by stating that organizations and individuals who give back will end up thriving in a post-COVID world. Beyond his contributions to the club soccer world, Get on the Bus provides Title 1 schools and their children with healthy snacks, access to life skills, and donations of soccer kits and equipment. Additionally, they include the kids in their rec programs with access to professional coaching. It’s no wonder that he believes so ardently in the idea of giving back as a way to thrive both personally and organizationally. 


Megan Bartlett, the Founder of WeCoach, helped our group understand the power of sports as a healing agent, particularly in the face of trauma. Due to COVID-19 and the racial unrest being experienced across the country, sports now have an elevated platform and responsibility. Providing children of all walks of life with access to sports and mentors is a great way to begin the healing process. She also noted that while the country is going through a tumultuous time, the value of athletics remains in the face of any trauma. 


Finally, the NBA’s Candice Haynes weighed in on what the league is doing to make basketball accessible to all children. As the NBA’s Domestic Youth Basketball Development Program Officer, Haynes has helped usher in dynamic, progressive and expansive programming through the Jr. NBA. It was refreshing to hear Haynes explain how she sees the organization’s role in the youth sports ecosystem. In many ways the NBA is looking to support and encourage difference makers in the youth sports community by providing as many resources as possible. The NBA’s Mind Health Program is a perfect example of the league providing resources to the hard working folks on the front lines. “It’s a matter of leveraging our platform and amplifying those voices that are doing the work,” said Haynes in closing. 


If you’d like to hear more from our esteemed panel, you can view the entire conversation on our YouTube channel by clicking this link


After the hour-long discussion our live audience participated in a variety of breakout sessions. The main question posed to these small groups was “What is the most effective way for youth sports organizations and other stakeholders to collaborate to increase equity and access to sports?” This conversation surfaced the obstacles and challenges standing in the way of a more accessible youth sports experience and the ideas that our community had to combat these roadblocks. 


Here is a sampling of the possible solutions provided by our participants:


Educating for-profit organizations as to the resources currently available is a meaningful first step. They may be unaware of SBYD organizations, the research and recommendations from Aspen Institute, trauma-informed coaching methodologies like the work at WeCoach, Up2US, the Positive Coaching Alliance, and more. In many parts of the country the resources to make youth sports more accessible exist but are being under-utilized.


Unfortunately, funding for youth organizations oftentimes comes with strings attached and does not always align with what families need. Facilitating conversations between financial benefactors, community leaders, parents, and kids is a meaningful step in the right direction. These conversations can also serve as a venue to share resources among members of the community. If Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCAs, and school-based programs are brought to the table and included, they can offer facility space, which remains one of the stumbling blocks for broader access to sports. 


Representation matters, plain and simple. If our organizations and leaders don’t reflect the diversity of their communities, there exists a blind spot from the get-go. Additionally, collaborations, partnerships, and collective impact must be authentic and mission-oriented. This leads to the question, how do we create incentives for collaboration that resonate with our community? 


Balancing competition and access is a worthwhile endeavor. As Pharlone Toussaint pointed out, unchecked competition has led to predominantly white and affluent organizations taking on an old boys club feel. This can take away from youth sports visibility in low-income communities. Easing back on the “win at all costs” mentality can leave room for more investment in both time and money in underserved communities and help provide more access and participation overall. 






This piece was written by a member of the LeagueApps content team.