Youth Sports Leaders Form PLAY Sports Coalition

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400+ youth sports leaders join forces to form the PLAY Sports Coalition to support young athletes through COVID-19.

April 21, 2020 - Nearly 20 years have passed yet those iconic words from Nelson Mandela stand tall and today are the foundation PLAY Sports, a first-of-its-kind collaborative coalition among more than 400 community and national sports organizations and leaders, has been built on. 

PLAY Sports, which stands for Promoting Local and Youth Sports, represents a united front to support young athletes, working families, coaches and volunteers across all 50 states, particularly those in underserved areas, through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

The fragmented and grassroots nature of youth sports necessitated an industry Coalition to work cooperatively, and with the federal, state and local governments and agencies, to advocate for a collective survival and impactful return. Left to its own, youth sports families and organizations will struggle, and a return to play would at least be delayed, if not fail.

According to recent poll results shared by the Aspen Institute for Sports, nearly 60% of local sports leaders said their organizations will project to lose at least 50% of their revenue over the next year due to COVID-19. They have experienced, or are facing, layoffs, furloughs, bankruptcies and facility foreclosures. This includes direct impacts to millions of grassroots coaches who provide invaluable time and leadership to their young athletes and sports.

PLAY Sports’ mission is to ensure that the institutions connected to youth and local sports survive and thrive coming out of this pandemic.  More than ever, sports can teach critical values to our youth, providing families and especially youth opportunities for character and leadership development and repairing a society that needs community, connectivity and joy.  

The immediate and time-sensitive first initiative of the Coalition will be calling on Congress to assist community organizations not helped by the CARES Act survive until it is safe to return to play.  The youth sports industry, comprised almost entirely of volunteers, nonprofits and small businesses, risks a complete collapse.  This is about saving volunteer-driven organizations, youth sports infrastructure, jobs, and ensuring that young people have access to sports in a safe environment and receive the physical, social, emotional and cognitive benefits organized sports provides.

A letter backed by each of the more than 400 Coalition members, which included the National Council of Youth Sports (NCYS), PeacePlayers, YMCA of the USA and multiple U.S. sports federations, was delivered on Monday to Senator Mitch McConnell, Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate, and Senator Charles Schumer, Minority Leader of the U.S. Senate. Among the asks of Congress for support were an $8.5 billion economic stabilization fund for youth sports providers and the formation of a youth sports COVID-19 Task Force.

The economic losses suffered by this forced pause, while not unique to youth sports, applies to the program providers, particularly sports-based youth development programs serving at-risk youth from under-resourced  communities, as well as event facility hosts and large numbers of employees and contractors who make sports possible. Priority consideration in the disbursement of these funds will be given to these programs supporting under-served communities such as girls and youth with disabilities.

This designated fund also would include reimbursement for lost expenses, including camps and clinics, funding for employee and contractual-related expenses needed to continue operations beyond the allowable period of the CARES Act and competition and event cancellations that are non-refundable or insurable due to the National Emergency nature of the cancellations.

Beyond immediate relief, PLAY Sports will also engage a diverse set of stakeholders to advocate for the comeback of youth and local sports, centered around values of placing athletes first, inclusivity, accessibility, accountability, and innovation.  

The coalition strategy includes: supporting families playing and coaching again, recognizing the economic and psychological devastation of COVID-19 will impact how families invest time and resources in participation in sports; and a playbook for return to play, ensuring there are clear guidelines, protocols, training and professional development to support the return of youth sports that ensures safe and positive sports experiences.

PLAY Sports Coalition is being led by a volunteer steering committee consisting of representatives across the youth sports industry, including Wayne B. Moss (National Council on Youth Sports), Benita Fitzgerald Mosley (Laureus Sport for Good USA), Jon Butler (Pop Warner), Jeremy Goldberg (LeagueApps), Keri King (Triple Crown Sports), and Luke Zaientz (Reigning Champs). Active Policy Solutions, led by Terri Lakowski, is serving as a special advisor to the Coalition and its Steering Committee.

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