Events | Reports

Project Play explores breakthrough ideas at three types of events: Town halls/summits for large gatherings, all-day deep dive roundtables with 25+ thought leaders, and "Aspen Timeout" panels held at major conferences of stakeholder organizations

In collaboration with the Aspen Institute’s Project Play, the Illinois Youth Sport Summit convened 64 leaders from across a wide spectrum of state agencies and organizations that are responsible for the design, delivery, and execution of youth sports programming. The two-day summit explored the barriers that impair cooperation across sectors, and began the process of designing and sustaining youth programs that benefit all kids in all communities across Illinois.

As a result of the summit, the Department of Recreation, Sport and Tourism at the University of Illinois has now created the Illinois Youth Sport Initiative, which will serve two primary purposes. First, it will provide a platform for sharing resources, insights, and strategies for positive reform of youth sport. Second, it will facilitate formulation and implementation of tactics to achieve such reforms, promoting alliances and collaborations among youth sport providers. The initiative represents the first state-based analog to Project Play, a national effort to reimagine youth sports in a form that delivers universal access to an early positive sports experience.

“The Illinois Youth Sport Summit complements Project Play by inviting state and local policymakers to reimagine youth sport,” said Laurence Chalip, professor and chair of the Department of Recreation, Sport and Tourism at the University of Illinois. “We have worked closely with Project Play, and will continue to do so as we roll out the next steps. The partnership between Illinois youth sport policymakers and Project Play is valuable partnership because it strengthens the links among local, state and national efforts to build an inclusive and positive youth sport experience for all young people.”

Chalip, a member of the Aspen Institute’s Project Play advisory group, doctoral student Raquel Hutchinson, Operations Director of the Illinois Youth Sport Summit, and Jarrod Scheunemann, Community Services and Education Coordinator of the Office of Recreation and Park Resources will spearhead the state-based initiative. It will produce a white paper to summarize key ideas from the summit, and is forming working groups to action those ideas. The ideas flowed from the two-day summit at Navy Pier in Chicago, where the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program also hosted a roundtable of 40 leaders, “Fields of Dreams: Innovate and They Will Come?” The events were held on the eve of the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Assembly.

“Designing solutions at the state-based level is important,” said Tom Farrey, executive director of the Sports & Society Program. “Each state has a different set of challenges, barriers, policies, opportunities and resources when it comes to getting kids active through sports, so gathering the key stakeholders from across sectors, from the parks and recreation level up, holds great promise in identifying opportunities for collective action. I look forward to seeing what the initiative develops, as a potential model for other states.”

For more information about the Illinois Youth Sport Summit, visit their website.



February 25, 2015
Washington, DC


We've been busy. Since launching Project Play last year, the Sports & Society Program has hosted a multi-day summit, seven roundtables, a televised town hall, and a series of "Aspen Timeout" panels at national conferences. More than 300 thought leaders have engaged in our dialogues, sharing ideas on how to create universal access to early positive experiences in sports. Wider audiences have explored our content through distribution of our research and event summary reports, articles in major publications, and video clips. We have asked the hard questions, listened intently, and taken good notes.

Now, it's time to identify a path forward. In January, we will release the Project Play report, an eight-point plan that will help stakeholders -- sport leaders to mayors, policymakers to parents -- reimagine youth sports in America in a form that serves all children in all communities. Underwritten by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the report will offer a new conceptual model and specific ways that sectors can help get every kid through age 12 active through sports. Then, in February, we'll host a summit for leaders to explore and activate on these opportunities.

It's time to put ideas into actions. Build a better youth sports system. Lay the groundwork for a culture of health.

Join us in Washington, D.C. at the Newseum for the Project Play Summit, underwritten by Nike. It's our biggest event yet.

Agenda, featured guests, registration information and other details to come.

October 10, 2014
Dana Point, CA
St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort

In May, President Obama hosted an event, the “White House Healthy Kids and Safe Sports Concussion Summit.” The president spoke of the need to address the concussion crisis and keep kids active, and a panel that followed underscored the important role that mothers play in the future of youth sports, given growing concerns about playing contact sports.

Mothers are the gatekeepers, often the parent who signs up a child for her or his activities. What are their concerns about youth sports -- from injuries to coaching to impacts on family time? 

In partnership with espnW, the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program is conducting a ground-breaking, nationally representative survey of moms to find out what they want and need for their kids. With results in hand from the espnW/Aspen Institute Project Play survey, we will co-host a Project Play roundtable at the conclusion of The espnW: Women + Sports Summit where thoughts leaders will react to the findings and explore issues facing both moms and their daughters.

The goal: Define and elevate the voices of moms and girls in the conversation around quality youth sports.

For more information, contact program coordinator Risa Isard.

September 24, 2014
Chicago, IL
Navy Pier

Any true commitment to broad-based sports participation begins with infrastructure. Fields. Gyms. Rinks. Rec centers. Bike paths. Build, maintain and secure ‘em, or pay the price later. Federal support for such projects took a serious hit in 1980, and it’s never recovered. Today, we see park and rec departments under significant duress – and the rise of private, specialized athletic facilities whose programming is too expensive for many families. In Chicago, the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program convened 40+ leaders for a Project Play conversation on how to grow the supply of safe play spaces that meet the needs of all children in all communities. Held at Navy Pier on the final day of the Illinois Youth Sports Summit, and on the eve of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Assembly, the dialogue identified breakthrough ideas in funding, collaboration and innovation that can serve urban, suburban and rural communities – each of which face its own distinct challenges. Leaders also considered ways that the hosting of an Olympic Games could best leave a legacy of community facilities.

March 14, 2014
Washington, DC
Partnership for a Healthier America

Children who are physically active enjoy a wide range of emotional, physical, cognitive and social benefits, and are far more likely to achieve their full human potential. At the Partnership for a Healthier America Summit -- one of the premier gatherings of leaders working to end childhood obesity -- Tom Farrey discussed how the Aspen Institute's Project Play will get and keep more kids active through the creation of early positive experiences in sports. Joining him to share their work in this space were Matt Geschke, director of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation USA; Janet Froetscher, CEO of Special Olympics; and Chris Snyder, director of coach education for the U.S. Olympic Committee. 

March 12, 2014
Washington, DC
The Aspen Institute

Over the past year, the Aspen Institute's Project play has begun to reimagine youth sports in America in a form that serves all children and all communities. A series of roundtables has established the value of anchoring our disjointed sports system in the principles of age-appropriate play, of training volunteer coaches in the basic competencies to deliver an early positive experience, and the need to grow sport participation rates among the most vulnerable populations. Now, how can stakeholders deliver scalable progress in each of these channels? Underwritten by Nike through its support of the Designed to Move platform, this roundtable of 30 leaders considered the role of, and opportunities for foundations, government, corporations and the health care sector.

Roundtable summary report (11-page PDF)

February 26, 2014
Mountain View, CA
Google Headquarters

Technology is often blamed for falling participation rates in team sports. But tech isn't going away. So how do we use tech as an asset, and reduce the barriers to an early positive sports experience? This one-day roundtable convened 40+ leaders from the realms of technology, business innovation, sport and academia to develop four emerging ideas that could change the game for kids and youth sports, one of the few industries whose model has yet to be disrupted (for the better) by technology. The event, underwritten by the David & Lucile Packard Foundation and hosted at Google, included a featured talk with Google senior executive Gopi Kallayil, who inspired attendees by drawing connnections to the company's eight points of innovation.

Event summary report (10-page PDF)

February 13, 2014
Lake Buena Vista, FL
ESPN Wide World of Sports

Event Summary (9-page PDF)

Consolidated Recommendations of Medical/Health Groups (7-page PDF)

Pediatricians, sports medicine doctors and researchers have valuable recommendations and insights on how to properly engage and protect children in sports – insights rarely considered by parents and sport organizers.  This one-day event convened about 50 leaders from medicine, sport, academia and business innovation to address the role of medical professionals in informing the decision-making process in youth sports.

The dialogue identified opportunities to integrate medical/health professionals into the structure of sport bodies, and grow the quality and quantity of resources that can provide care for youth athletes. Participants also expressed support for holding off on tackle football until age 14. Helping to inform the day's conversation was the University of Florida’s SPARC, which consolidated the recommendations made by 11 medical and health groups on topics related to children’s sport activity –- from sport specialization to physical activity.

The roundtable was held in conjunction with the Developing the Healthy Athlete conference, with space provided by Disney/ESPN Wide World of Sports. Event sponsors were the American College of Sports Medicine; American Academy of Pediatrics; American Council on Exercise; Platinum Performance; Broad & Cassel, and the World Sports Institute.

January 15, 2014
La Quinta, CA
Clinton Health Matters annual conference

Roundtable summary report (10-page PDF)

Event Program (24-page PDF)

How can stakeholders deliver more early positive experiences to underserved populations? In the third of four Project Play roundtables on how to grow the quality and quantity of youth coaches, we turned our attention to what’s possible in low-income and other communities that lack trained volunteers. We also considered the needs of other marginalized groups, including the intellectually or physically challenged, and begged the question: Can we build a socially inclusive model for youth sports in America? This invitation-only gathering of 25 thought leaders was held at the Clinton Health Matters Conference of the Clinton Foundation, a partner in the Aspen Institute’s Project Play.

Participants included legendary golfer Gary Player, founder of the Player Foundation which serves disadvantaged children; Notah Begay III, founder of the Notah Begay Foundation and former PGA Tour golfer; Anita DeFrantz, CEO of the LA84 Foundation; Janet Froetscher, CEO of Special Olympics; Marj Snyder, research director for the Women's Sports Foundation; Ginny Ehrlich, CEO of the Clinton Health Matters Initiative; Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, U.S. Olympic Committee chief of organizational excellence and an Olympic gold medalist hurdler; Caitlin Morris, North America executive director for Nike's Access to Sport division; Eli Wolff, director of the Inclusive Sports Initiative; and Jill Vialet, CEO of Playworks.

January 13, 2014
La Quinta, CA
Clinton Health Matters Conference

ESPN Town Hall LogoHow do we get and keep more kids active in sports into the teenage years? On the opening night of the Clinton Health Matters Conference and in partnership with ESPN, President Clinton led a conversation on the central question of the Aspen Institute's Project Play with 15-time NBA All Star Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest players in basketball history. Tom Farrey, director of the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program and ESPN reporter, also moderated panels featuring Major League Baseball All-Star Matt Kemp, Olympic champion sprinter Allyson Felix, NFL great and Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, and U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun.

ESPN taped the Town Hall before a live, invitation-only audience of 400 health leaders and kids, and aired a one-hour, prime time special Feb. 9 on ESPN2. Watch video clips from each of the panels at the links below, and join the conversation on Twitter at #KidsAndSports and @AspenInstSports #ProjectPlay.

"(Sports) made a huge difference to me because it made me feel comfortable with being with other people, " Clinton told ESPN's Mike Greenberg in his moderated conversation with Bryant. "A lot of kids are just uncomfortable in school. You play a few games and you're not so uncomfortable anymore. It's a way of belonging. It's a way of having a common language without having to open your mouth."

Bryant came to the conversation from the perspective of both a father to two daughters and as a world-class athlete. Before the event, he said, "Today's kids are the least active in history and, dropping out of sports at alarming rates. I'm excited to join the Aspen Institute Project Play dialogue and partner with President Clinton, Nike and ESPN at the upcoming Clinton Health Matters conference to bring attention to the need for universal access and early positive experiences in sports and play." The Clinton Foundation is a partner in Project Play.

During the Town Hall, Blackmun explained how the USOC will act on one of the breakthrough ideas explored during a Project Play event in September. He announced a Clinton Foundation commitment to action, with the USOC and U.S. Paralympics pledging to introduce the "American Development Model," a comprehensive and collaborative initiative that will seek to unify National Governing Bodies and community programs in keeping Americans active in sport longer.

The model combines sport, play, education and health through a five-stage pathway that supports a positive sport experience based on the individual’s physical, mental and emotional development. Through its commitment to the Clinton Health Matters Initiative, the USOC will engage all 47 NGBs (national sport governing bodies) to endorse the American Development Model. Resources will include a dedicated presence at, coaching workshops, and educational materials to help guide parents, coaches, administrators and athletes."

Also at the Clinton conference, Nike announced it will continue its partnership with the Aspen Institute to address the physical inactivity epidemic in today’s youth. Through its “Designed to Move” platform, Nike will support the convening of leaders in the sports world to develop scalable solutions that address seven key indicators of early sports experiences -– access, age appropriateness, dosage and duration, fun, incentives and motivation, participant feedback, and coaching and education.

The solutions identified and developed through Project Play will be captured in a report to be released by the Aspen Institute at the end of the year.

November 20, 2013
Colorado Springs, CO
US Olympic Training Center

Event Program (24-page PDF)

Roundtable summary report (10-page PDF)

What does good youth coaching look like? What are the practical elements that every adult who works with children needs to be trained in -- from CPR to skills development to positive motivational technique? The second of four roundtables focused on how to grow the quality and quantity of youth coaches in the U.S. The Aspen Institute's Project Play convened more than 30 coaching leaders to consider the prospects of creating a simple, affordable, credible training platform that parents has the endorsement of organizations parents know and trust. Featured guests at the event, sponsored by Nike, included Alan Ashley, U.S. Olympic Committee Chief of Sport Performance.

November 17, 2013
Dallas, TX

Sports promote physical activity, but some provide more than others. Held at the American Heart Association's Global Congress on Physical Activity, this Aspen Timeout moderated by Tom Farrey explored which forms of sport produce the greatest health benefits for children -- and which carry the greatest safety risks. Topics included organized vs. unstructured sports, interscholastic vs. intramural sports, team vs. individual sports, and best practices by coaches.

Panelists were Dr. William Dietz, Past Director, Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity, U.S. Centers for Disease Control; Dean Kriellaars, Ph.D. CEP, University of Manitoba School of Medical Rehabilitation, Department of Physical Therapy; and Gary Hall Jr., Principal, Hallway Consulting, 10-time Olympic medalist in swimming.

Session audio available for purchase only at American Heart Association website