Summit on Developing the Healthy Youth Athlete: The Public Health Challenge and Opportunity Tackles Top Issues Facing Youth Sports

ACSM — with a large and extraordinary array of partner organizations, including ESPN Wide World of Sports; the Aspen Institute; the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition; the National Youth Sports Health & Safety Institute; the National Council of Youth Sports; and many more — hosted a thought-leading and action-leading summit on "Developing the Healthy Youth Athlete: the Public Health Challenge and Opportunity," Feb. 11-12 at Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The conference blended research and science with real-life examples and community best practices to provide innovative insights and understanding of the hot topics in youth athletics. The summit was only the beginning of an ongoing initiative, but below are some key takeaway messages from the event:

Youth sports are powerfully important at all levels of society with a vast array of complementary benefits for individuals, communities, and countries, but need fundamental change to make them even safer, healthier, more enjoyable, and playing a greater beneficial role for people as youth and throughout the lifespan.

A robust agenda of nationally and internationally prominent speakers and panels called for new approaches to youth sports, and came with solutions as well as a collective call to action. The summit led to a process of thinking anew about youth sports, an exercise in reimagining that takes the current best of youth sports, which is considerable, along with steps that are pressing needs and attractive opportunities for progress.

So, for a moment, let's imagine a new world where every kid between the ages of 6 and 17 has the opportunity to play organized sports — a world where:
    Coaches are trained on the mechanics of the sport AND the fundamentals of youth development.
  • Sport competition is a vehicle for building character — for raising kids who are morally, ethically and physically strong.
  • The primary reason kids (and their parents) are drawn to sports is first and foremost the FUN factor. Where winning and losing — while a reality — isn't the ultimate measure.
  • Every child has the opportunity to play.
  • Kids' early positive experience with sports leads to a lifetime of healthy physical activity.
  • The full range of co-benefits of youth sports, benefits in addition to health, are not only gained but are intentionally pursued by all, from individuals to national governments.
Within this imagining, of course, it was recognized and applauded that there are well-trained coaches; participation awards freely given to every child, and parents and coaches who espouse the concept of fun above competition. But society is disparate. And, according to the assembly of conference thought-leaders, youth sports need major, targeted change in order to create more early positive experiences for children.

While there are many important areas that need to be addressed, these experts suggested that special emphasis should be on coaches, the community and parents.

In addition, and depending on the community, attention should be given to providing safe and accessible facilities; creating more opportunities for free play; expanding access to organized sports; engaging youth in multiple sports—less of a focus on early specialization; and ensuring kids are safely engaged in age-appropriate activities.

The experts and thought leaders in Developing the Healthy Youth Athlete: The Public Health Challenge and Opportunity explored issues and creative solutions related to the state of youth sports in the U.S., North America and globally It was abundantly clear that the issues are complex, many with no easy answers; that one size doesn't fit all, and that making transformative progress will require multidisciplinary, multi-organizational and multi-sector collaboration.

The 2014 Summit on Developing the Healthy Youth Athlete: The Public Health Challenge and Opportunity was a key step in a vital journey, but not the conclusion. ACSM will provide important updates on those next steps in conjunction with the upcoming Annual Meeting and World Congresses in Orlando. That will involve — among other strategies — an ongoing collaborative structure that keeps individuals and organizations working together in evidence-based, evidence-informed, and best-practice fashion. If you are interested in being involved, please let us know by emailing at publicinfo@acsm.org. Youth sports have an even more important and beneficial role to play in the lives of individuals, families, communities, nations and the entire world. ACSM would be pleased and honored to partner with YOU in making that vision a reality.