Sport as a Solution and Opportunity

On September 18, I attended the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity (IAPO) conference in Bloomington, IL.  They note that, "Nationally, 75 percent of all healthcare costs are spent on the treatment of chronic diseases, many of which are obesity related." And further, they refer to a "2007 national survey on children's health revealed that only three states (Mississippi, Georgia, and Kentucky) have a higher childhood obesity rate than Illinois." Obesity is expected to cost "the Illinois health care system and taxpayers nearly $3.4 billion per year, including more than $1 billion to Medicaid and $800 million to Medicare annually." To this alliance, youth sports are a key part of the solution to childhood obesity and they see parks and recreation as a key player to solving this problem.

On September 5, I attended a presentation by Margaret Stender, the Chairman of the Chicago Sky, a WNBA team. She talked about athletics as a key part of training young people to become team players and leaders in their adult lives. Specifically, she talked about how Title IX changed sports for women, and the result is that she is seeing that young people today are seeing each other as athlete-to-athlete instead of athlete-to-girl, and that’s changing the way they communicate and the way they see each other as leaders. Margaret also runs Flow Basketball Academy, a training program for girls in basketball.  To her, sports is the solution for preparing women to be leaders and team players.

On September 23, I attended IPRA’s Supervisor Symposium’s Day One keynote address by Pat Sullivan, the St. Francis Basketball Coach. Pat’s presentation was about athletes as leaders. He believes that a person who is a "benchwarmer" is better prepared to be a future CEO, president, and leader in the corporate world, because the experience being a team without being the star player, prepares them to lead without seeking credit. He shared that as people look back at the coaches in their lives, most people don’t think of the person who helped them have the most victories, but instead, the person who pushed them and mentored them. To Pat, sports is the solution to creating positive mentors and future leaders.
On September 24, I was thrilled to be part of the first Illinois Youth Sports Summit. This was a program sponsored and hosted by University of Illinois and it was our pleasure to be partners for the event. The speakers that day included Jason Sacks, the Chicago Executive Director of Positive Coaching Alliance. He said that 70 percent of kids drop out of sports by the time they are 12 years old. He said that statistically, the number one reason why kids stay in sports is because they feel a connection with their coach as a mentor. Too often, he said, coaches are trained by their own experiences when they were kids, but have no recent training on the importance of mentoring as a part of the job.

So, in summary, Jason Sacks said, "Sport is the largest institution for kids outside of schools". Sport is the solution for childhood obesity, prepares leaders and team members, creates a new way for men and women to communicate with each other and respect each other. And kids drop out of sports before they’re 12 because they don’t connect with their coach as a mentor. Pat Sullivan said that it is the coaches who are mentors we remember for the rest of our lives, who change us for the better.
With all this riding on coaches and sports, it seems if an agency is thoughtful and strategic, they can make a drastic impact not only on their community, but on future leaders. Sports is a solution to so many questions. How can you, in your park and recreation agency, use this message to better serve your community and better prepare your community’s future leaders?

Debbie Trueblood, CAE
Executive Director