Why Sports Matter: Five Key Takeaways From an All-star Panel
Since we all love a good sports quote, let us begin with one from NBA star Kevin Durant’s manager, Rich Kleiman: “Regardless of your skill level and regardless of how great your upbringing was or how much struggle you had, those memories and those moments [of playing youth sports] seem to stand out for everybody.”
For some, it may be one memory in particular that stands out.
For others, it may be a highlight reel of memories — a great play you made, a fun tournament in another state, a kind gesture made by a coach or teammate.
In November, LeagueApps brought together enterprising sports organizers from across the country in New York City for two days of education, networking, and insights from their peers at NextUp, the first-ever youth sports industry conference.
Our opening panel featured Tiki Barber, Swin Cash, and Rich Kleiman, moderated by Cari Champion. Each offered valuable insight on the impact sports has for everyone, not just those who go on to become professional athletes.
Here are five key takeaways from Why Sports Matter to help remind you why you became a youth sports organizer in the first place — to provide amazing experiences for kids.
1. Sports can open new doors that may seem out of reach
The idea of sports being an equalizer was something that each speaker touched on during the panel.
Sports do not discriminate. With talent and a strong work ethic comes opportunity — opportunity for exposure, to receive a quality education, to travel to different places, to meet people from all walks of life, and to experience new cultures. This phenomenon is perhaps one of the purest things about sports, and why it can often propel kids to new heights as people.
When asked why youth sports were so important to him, former NFL player Tiki Barber highlighted two main ways in which it impacted him the most.
First, he explained that playing sports helped him fit in and feel accepted — something that was a challenge due to his shyness and the lack of racial diversity in his high school. Secondly, Barber emphasized how sports provided him with opportunities that may not have existed otherwise:
If and when you make it with that God-given ability, you automatically raise your floor. The level for you to fall is raised, right? It can still happen [falling], and we’ve seen it happen. But the expectation, the opportunity, the jumping off points that would not have existed are now there.
Swin Cash echoed a similar sentiment while detailing her experience playing youth basketball. The former WNBA player and current executive at the New Orleans Pelicans grew up in humble beginnings outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
As a kid, Swin received a scholarship to play on a team, which was a topic of discussion among some of her teammates’ parents. This could have been something that held her back, but Swin let her play do the talking, so to speak. “When I got in between those lines, I was able to show my talent. We [the players] were all on the same playing field,” she said.
2. Sports provide a sense of community and belonging
The best sports organizations foster an inclusive environment in which each member works together to achieve a common goal. No one can relate to this more than Tiki Barber. Using the phrase “village mentality,” he illustrated the role that coaches, teammates, and their families played in his early development.
He and his twin brother were raised by a single mother. Because Barber’s father was out of the picture, his sports community truly became his family. In addition, he had male coaches step in to assume the role of a father figure. One even taught him how to shave!
And when Barber got into trouble as a kid, he would never hear the end of it from his teammates’ mothers. They held him accountable on and off the field — just as any good parent would. In turn, he always aimed to make them proud.
“This sense of community has been lost somewhat today,” according to Barber, but he believes it is still prevalent in sports. At a time when there is a lot of division in our country, sports serve as a haven that has the power to unite people.
3. Sports can create a foundation for kids and their future
Parents undoubtedly have dozens of places to turn to help mold their child into a well-rounded human. That being said, none of them allow kids to experience the highs and lows of life in the way that youth sports do.
When Cari Champion asked Swin Cash what youth sports meant to her, Cash summed up her response in a few words. “My foundation was set through youth sports,” she stated.
Among the lessons she learned was the discipline of trying to achieve a goal while also excelling in the classroom. From an early age, Cash had aspirations to win a college scholarship. Her coaches knew this was her goal and made sure to hold her accountable so that she could reach it.
— Swin Cash (@SwinCash) November 4, 2019
Cash went on to play Division I basketball at UCONN, winning two national championships during her career. Despite her success, however, Cash faced adversity at all levels just like any other athlete. “I learned a lot of lessons in times when I didn’t feel great, or I lost,” she claims.
In her eyes, going home empty-handed in moments of defeat might not be such a bad thing, as opposed to receiving some type of participation certificate.
4. It’s important to establish a culture with a set of core values
LeagueApps is big on culture, and unapologetically so. What can we say? We are a group of sports diehards, organizers, and athletes.
Your culture is essentially your identity — a set of shared values that guide conduct.
Swin Cash and her staff at the New Orleans Pelicans aim to create an ecosystem where coaches understand their roles and responsibilities, but also the organization’s core values. The latter is particularly important when evaluating coaches. Cash recommends that organizations first recruit coaches who align with their values, and then ensure that they stay true to these values.
On the flip side, she argues that organizations need to invest in coaches’ individual growth and professional development. According to Cash, putting an infrastructure around them to have success will only help with retention.
Kleiman also encourages organizations to make sure the program, coaches, and technology are taken as seriously as you would have wanted it when you were a kid.
5. Coaches are influencers with the power to impact the lives of kids
Another common theme throughout the session was diversity of coaching staff, which Barber referenced in terms of both race and style. For kids, having a coach, mentor, or role model who looks like them can be crucial to keeping them in the sport. As Barber reasoned, “different kids learn in different ways so you have to have diversity in how you interact.”
To close out the session, Swin Cash delivered a mandate for all coaches in the room:
I live by the words ‘to whom much is given, much is required.’ And I feel like each and every one of us that are in here today: you’ve been blessed to be sitting here. You are influencers in the youth, the kids of tomorrow. So take that power, take that energy, and put things around them that can help them be better humans, better athletes, better contributors to our society.
You heard it from Swin Cash. Now, we challenge you to make a positive impact on each kid and provide them with better sports experiences. After all, sports do matter quite a bit.