Philadelphia sports are having a moment. The Eagles are Super Bowl champions. Villanova’s men’s basketball team has topped the NCAA for the second time in three years. And both the Sixers and Flyers made it into the postseason.
But Philadelphia’s kids are not sharing in that moment, and they should be. Fewer than one in five Philly kids gets the 60 minutes of daily physical activity recommended for children—and one in five doesn’t get any activity at all.
Philadelphia is the poorest of the nation’s 10 largest cities, and our wide income gap is reflected in a similar youth sports gap. Nationwide, youth sports is a $14.5 billion-a-year industry, but the “pay-to-play” model means that children from lower-income households are left out; there just aren’t enough programs available at low or no cost.
Sports have benefits that extend beyond the playing field. Sports bring youths into contact with other children and caring adults. They foster discipline, time management, and leadership. Playing sports helps children regulate their emotions, solve problems, and communicate effectively, skills that will serve them in other parts of their lives. Children involved in sports tend to have healthier lifestyles, which leads to better self-image and more success in school. They are less likely to engage in drugs, alcohol, and risky sex. They also are less likely to be involved in or be victims of violence.
That’s why the Philadelphia Youth Sports Collaborative, 32 organizations that support sports-based youth development programs, has been developing a plan to address this issue. Last fall, we brought together the Philadelphia Task Force on Sports-Based Youth Development in partnership with leaders from the city and the School District, and professional and amateur Philadelphia sports, as well as business, higher education, health care and the community at large.
After months of work, we now have a plan.
Focused on the middle school years (when the incidence of school truancy increases more than tenfold), the plan focuses on all kinds of sports, from baseball, basketball, football, hockey and soccer to track and field, rowing, martial arts, and even Ultimate Frisbee. The aim is to provide an opportunity for every Philly kid to participate in a high-quality sports program with trained coaches in safe and adequately-equipped facilities.
We’ll work with partners in government and the private sector to to increase access, affordability, and availability of places for programs to operate. We will complete an assessment of how city recreation centers and School District and private facilities are being used currently and maximize their usage by making improvements and keeping them open longer.
We will work to increase the reach, scale, and quality of sports-based youth development programs across the city, and we will increase recruitment and training of professionals and volunteers to lead them.
In addition, we will monitor the quality of the programs and the impact they are having. Our comprehensive campaign will not only communicate the benefits of youth sports but will also let families know about opportunities in their own neighborhoods. We also plan to raise funds to develop the resources from both the public and private sectors to help expand and sustain these programs.
There are many ways you can help: become a volunteer, serve on a board, help us recruit kids, be an advocate for the cause, or help us raise money.
Get off the sidelines and connect with the “Game On Philly! Campaign.” It’s time to take the field.
Beth Devine is executive director of the Philadelphia Youth Sports Collaborative. David Montgomery is chairman of the Phillies.