PARK CITY, Utah — Youth Sports Alliance (YSA) was named a Project Play Champion by the Aspen Institute at their annual meeting held in Washington D.C. this week. YSA received the honor based on its commitment to increasing sport sampling opportunities to students across Summit and Wasatch Counties.
According to published information by the Aspen Institute, “Project Play is a community of more than 20,000 organizations and leaders building healthy children through sports.” Sport sampling involves children trying a variety of sports and physical activities and is considered critical to the development of children’s motor and social skills, future athletic success, lifelong physical activity, and reduced injury risk.
Over the course of the next year, YSA is focused on increasing access to active and healthy lifestyle programming after school in rural communities within Summit & Wasatch Counties, as well as encouraging increased participation among Latinx students. YSA programming is a crucial component, along with school physical education programs, to get kids active. Many communities do not offer afterschool programming except for high school athletics and clubs.
Programming will be available to all students in grades one – 12. YSA expanded scholarship eligibility to students living in families earning up to 80% of the area median income to encourage greater participation by students of all income levels.
The Aspen Institute notes in a statement that “Parents and young athletes today are bombarded with the message that high doses of one sport at an early age is the only pathway to athletic stardom. This narrative demands that children choose only one sport, characterized by high levels of deliberate and focused practice (rather than play), and often focus on performance at ages as early as 6 years old. However, early sport specialization puts kids at risk of higher rates of injury and increased psychological stress, even causing them to prematurely “retire” from sports at a young age. Sport sampling mitigates those risks and helps kids stay active longer. Research shows that kids who sample sports have increased physical capacity and motor skills, an increased ability to translate those skills to other sports, stay in sports longer, and are more likely to build social-emotional skills through sports.”
YSA Executive Director, Emily Fisher told me, “To be recognized by such a well-respected national organization like the Aspen Institute is really special. The past two pandemic years have been very challenging but the YSA staff, especially Heather Sims, our dedicated programs director, has focused on what we can do, and how we can get kids active and off their screens instead of all the barriers in front of us. Now, more than ever, having affordable options where kids can try a variety of sports is absolutely undeniable. It was gratifying to see YSA alumni excel in the Beijing Olympics. The expansion of our programming into outlying areas and signing up the largest number of afterschool students. We can’t do any of it without the support of our community, if you’ve ever bought an opportunity drawing ticket at Jans Winter Welcome, made a potluck item, driven the carpool, or donated a ski parka, you have helped and for that I am deeply humbled and thankful to you.”
YSA has long encouraged sport sampling for area students by offering the opportunity to try every Winter Olympic sport discipline except bobsled, as well as mountain biking, boxing, and a host of other sports in four- to six-week sessions.