The Aspen Institute: Project Play

May 28, 2020

Experts: Youth sports need new infrastructure, partnerships

JON SOLOMON
Editorial Director, Sports & Society Program

Rochester Soccer.jpg

Today, we have a youth sports model where we sort the weak from the strong at ever-earlier ages before they have grown into their bodies, minds and interests. Quality access to sports is often based on whether families can pay for a sustained experience. Kids from lower-income homes are six times as likely to quit sports for financial reasons as their higher-income peers.

On May 27, the Aspen Institute’s Project Play hosted our sixth webinar, this one exploring what the youth sports model should look like after the coronavirus pandemic. Leading experts from Major League Baseball, National Recreation and Park Association, and American College of Sports Medicine weighed in and reacted to Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program Executive Director Tom Farrey’s recent article with his vision on how sports can help rebuild America.

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After COVID-19, youth sports will likely never be the same – and many leaders in the industry think these changes could be harmful. During the webinar, Project Play conducted an unscientific survey of 1,032 youth sports leaders, asking what they think youth sports participation will look like by the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles if we don’t change the current delivery model. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they expect participation would be down 10% or more, including 19% who think the decline would be at least 20%.

So, what do we want the next model to be? Here are highlights from the webinar discussion.

WHAT STORY DO WE COLLECTIVELY WANT TO TELL ABOUT YOUTH SPORTS EIGHT TO 10 YEARS FROM NOW?

Kristine Stratton, National Recreation and Park Association president and CEO: “We would like to see parks and recreation be, and be seen, as leaders and champions of quality youth sport access. In (Farrey’s) piece, there’s a quote that paints a pretty grim picture of parks and recreation – one reason youth sports have been privatized is because parks and rec forgot about who the consumer is, didn’t care about the experience and just worried about satisfying the mayor. This absolutely cannot be the narrative in eight to 10 years. … Youth sports should really help children thrive socially and emotionally. To achieve that, it will take accountability and a cohesive strategy to get us there, and one that is really supportive at the national level.”

NiCole Keith, American College of Sports Medicine president: “With this occasion of COVID-19, we have a chance of reminding adults and kids how sport can influence behavior in a positive way, and that it’s not only about winning and losing.”

HOW SHOULD HEALTH FACTOR INTO A NEW MODEL?

Keith: “You have to think about it from the standpoint of community health and mental health, and it has to represent all people regardless of their ability, skill level or background. While some coaches are doing this, I would advocate for policies that train coaches not just for safety and CPR, but to reinforce the development of intrapersonal relationships through sport. … This is still happening at the level of the physical educator, and not necessarily at the level of the coach and the parent. In terms of professional sport, health and policies are getting attention as advocates for mental health. But I don’t see it being implemented as much in youth sport and the high school level as it could be.”

HOW IMPORTANT WILL IT BE TO ENGAGE POLICYMAKERS OVER THE NEXT YEAR?

Jean Lee Batrus, MLBMLBPA Youth Development Foundation executive director: “Policymakers are going to be a very critical part of this conversation. Involving the (National Governing Bodies) is going to be very important, especially when we look at how do we have high-quality coaching and reward coaches? We need to be nimble and responsive in a market economy that has been disrupted. I know that we’re all disappointed and many jobs have been lost, but there’s also an opportunity to look at free and low-cost localized play in underserved communities and really bringing diversity back to baseball and softball. For us, we think there’s a huge opportunity in this, but without the support of policymakers and other stakeholders, it won’t be possible.”

Stratton: “Parks and recreation are actively advocating for investment as part of the post-pandemic federal stimulus in the form of infrastructure and workplace development. We desperately need an infusion of capital. We know that we’ve had historic inequity in terms of access to places to play. If you take urban settings alone, one in three people do not have access to a park within a 10-minute walk from home. And if they do have access to a park, it’s not necessarily well-maintained that’s safe and welcoming. There’s a tremendous backlog in deferred maintenance and projects across country, from local parks to state to national. Just taking national parks, we’ve got an estimated $60 billion backlog in capital projects.”

Keith: “The National Physical Activity Guidelines report lists schools as the target (for kids to access recreation), but unfortunately, schools aren’t always built in easily accessible places for kids and they have to rely on people in their lives to get there. Creating communities that are walkable and bikeable are really important. I think city planners are an important group of people to target who are non-traditional partners in sport and physical activity.”

WHAT ONE PARTNERSHIP WOULD BEST HELP TO BRING MORE QUALITY SPORTS ACTIVITY THAT IS COMMUNITY-BASED AND AFFORDABLE?

Keith: “There might be an opportunity to reallocate resources for programs that have not traditionally been in schools but are not necessarily open or available for children to utilize. Maybe reallocate those resources and people to places that are accessible, including schools but also parks and recreation departments or neighborhood community centers that are nearby. Those partnerships are really important, not just to put the programs there, but to put the adults there to support the kids, either on a volunteer or paid basis.”

Stratton: “I think partnerships between parks and recreation and schools can be a real game changer. There’s a mantra in parks and recreation: A school district kid is a parks and recreation kid as soon as the school bell rings. What we need to be doing is really engaging city planners on how do we provide access to youth that is the most accessible possible? What do our facilities offer in terms of flexible use? So, look at joint-use agreements between schools and parks and rec, and look at the opportunity to then layer creative programming that is flexible and adaptable and won’t be jeopardized by trends and fads.”

Batrus: “I think there’s going to need to be new mechanisms for funding. The beauty of the Aspen Institute’s Project Play 2020 is bringing other funders, like the Ralph C. Wilson Jr., Foundation, where we’re looking to co-invest in larger projects. … There is an opportunity to bring back localized play at low-cost entry points. As we think about partnerships moving forward, from a funding perspective as municipalities and states are losing revenue, it’s just awful what’s happening across the country. This is a call of action. Think about our priorities. How do we change our investments and be a little more strategic and drill down with organizations like (the NRPA). Kristine, I would love to have a conversation with you afterward. Historically, we’ve worked very closely with local parks and rec departments. They’re going to become even more relevant going forward.” 

HOW DO WE GET NEW IDEAS TO PARENTS WHO ARE ON THE COMPETITIVE AND EXPENSIVE SPORTS TRACK AND DON’T KNOW HOW TO GET OFF?

Batrus: “It might just be natural market forces with the inability of kids to return to travel sports immediately and needing to find other opportunities at a localized level. … It’s going to be evolving. We don’t have all of the answers now. We want to walk very carefully with the CDC and WHO guidelines before we make recommendations to parents.”

Keith: “Including the healthcare provider early is very important. The role of the pediatrician is important in clearing a patient to play a sport. … When kids are little, parents get their kids involved (in sports) mostly for the right reasons – for opportunities for exercise and socialization. That is when the conversation needs to start occurring about letting the kids being involved in the decisions involving their sport.”

HOW DO WE INCENTIVIZE BETTER COACH TRAINING?

Farrey: “I think that’s a conversation to be had with the National Governing Bodies, and perhaps the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee could have a supportive role there. I think there’s a conversation to be had at the municipal level regarding the power of the permit. Parks and rec are really taxed right now and we have to be careful not to task too much of them. But those who control field space could lift the conditions of what’s asked of organizations. Don’t just ask organizations if they have insurance. Also ask, are your coaches trained in these key competencies?”

Keith: “A public health strategy that has worked in the past is social pressure. Parents want to do what’s best for their kids. If it’s socially unacceptable to have a coach or official who is not trained, pretty soon it will just be the norm. … It can be community driven and crowd-sourced through media and marketing communication that this is the way we’ve got to move forward.”

Batrus: “Due to COVID-19, all coaches are probably going to have to undergo some additional training in this new world. This is similar to the exercise we had to go through with SafeSport (after widespread cases of athletes being sexually abused) and looking at a whole new way of certifying to make sure kids remain safe. If there’s a requirement to train under COVID-19 safe and health guidelines, can we amplify and add in some other resources? I would agree that we need to lean on the NGBs and other national bodies to really mandate it, and that’s where we can engage the government and policymakers to have this enforceable.”

Do you have a topic that you would like Project Play to explore in future COVID-19 youth sports coverage? Email Jon Solomon at jon.solomon@aspeninstitute.org.

Box vs Field

by Hayden McClellan – Founding Fathers Lacrosse

Lacrosse is a unique sport for many reasons. One in particular is that there are two versions of the sport at the professional level – one is indoor (box) and the other is field (outdoor). This can be confusing to those that are unfamiliar with lacrosse, or even those that have played before. This post will talk about the differences and similarities between the two versions of the same game. While there are many excellent resources that dive into the depths and technicalities of both versions, our goal is to remain introductory and to provide important background.

Before diving too deeply into the nuances of indoor and outdoor lacrosse, it’s important to understand some of the key differences first.  The first key difference is the venue attributes.  Box lacrosse is played indoor and field lacrosse is played outside. Box lacrosse closely resembles the game of hockey with the same dimensions but without the ice, whereas field lacrosse plays on a bigger field with similar dimensions to football or soccer.

Box lacrosse has smaller field proportions and also smaller goals. These mimic the ones used in hockey where the goalie takes up the majority of the frame. For outdoor, they are bigger and deeper (6×6 ft.) so there is more space to shoot. Because the field and goal sizes are smaller than outdoor there are also less players on the field at a time. There are 10 for outdoor and 6 for indoor. In later posts we will explore how those numbers influence the style and play, but for now it’s good to simply know that key distinction.

Up to this point we have focused on the differences between indoor and outdoor lacrosse, which might lead the reader to think they are wildly different games. This is true to an extent but there are many similarities and parallels which are transferable between the two. The first similarity that both games share is the objective. No matter what style of lacrosse you are playing, the objective is always the same: to score a point by throwing the lacrosse ball into the opponent’s goal.

The gear that a player wears in both games is the same. Every player will need the following essential pieces of equipment: lacrosse stick, helmet, shoulder pads, gloves, arm pads, and a cup (check out an earlier post for more info here: https://oregonboxlax.com/news-more/) Lastly, the fundamentals are the same no matter how you are playing lacrosse. Passing, catching, cradling and running are all key skills to have. If you’re playing lacrosse, these are the building blocks to being successful!

For the many reasons above, box and outdoor lacrosse are both similar and yet different in how they are structured and played. In upcoming posts, we will delve into more of these examples and how players can and should adapt between them. The majority of lacrosse players play outdoor and won’t deviate from that style. Though this is commonplace, the growing trend is for players to experience and play both. We could not be more excited to continue that trend! The box game provides ample opportunity to learn skills that aren’t as available in outdoor. As Bill Tierney, Denver University head coach (6x national champion) said, “If I had my choice, I would have every player under the age of 12 play box lacrosse exclusively or at least the majority of the time.”

Stay tuned for upcoming posts!

Why Box?

What the best in the game say about Box.

I absolutely loved playing box lacrosse. I’ve admired so much of what it stands for in its concepts, etiquette and tradition. It’s not easy by any means, but it gave me an opportunity to challenge myself in another way. My advice to anyone considering playing box is to look around, be tough and have a ton of fun.

— Casey Powell

When training, it’s all about touches for me. To give American players an opportunity to play in tight quarters is critical. To be honest, Canadians have passed the American players in the stick skill department. Just look at the landscape of college lacrosse and the leading offensive scorers to confirm this opinion. More importantly, indoor lacrosse is a blast! At the end of the day, it should be about having fun first.

— Paul Carcaterra, ESPN Analyst and Syracuse University All-American Midfielder

Every Kid Should Play Box Lacrosse

John Desko, Head Coach Syracuse University

If I was US Lacrosse, I wouldn’t let any kids play field until they were 10 or 12,” he said. “Until box lacrosse grows in the United States, it’ll continue to be this way.

– Bill Tierney, University of Denver Head Coach

Being a part of the finesse and physicality of box lacrosse has been a great experience for me. I feel that I have learned and improved as an overall lacrosse player. Learning to adapt in tight space while reading defenders and offensive players has been the biggest improvement in my game.

 Paul Rabil, NLL & MLL All-Star, NCAA All-American

When you watch Canadian kids [Box Lacrosse Players] score, when you see their skill level around the cage, you wonder to yourself, ‘Jeez, are we teaching kids [in the U.S.] the wrong things?

– Dom Starsia University of Virginia Head Coach

One of the biggest benefits of playing box for a young lacrosse player is in the development of lacrosse IQ. Because everyone plays with a short stick [in box lacrosse], you have to focus on being a complete lacrosse player versus specializing as an attackman or d-man. That is how your IQ grows and skills improve.

– University of Hartford Head Coach Peter Lawrence

If box lacrosse were played by kids in the U.S. In the fall the way it is played in Canada, it would completely change the complexion of the game in terms of the quality of play and the balance of power. The trend of competitive balance at the DI level would be expedited. Now, the game is growing faster than ever, but one doesn’t see improvement in players from certain regions as expected with such large growth. Box Lacrosse would change all of that. You don’t have to be a good coach to make kids be better players in the box. Like a great drill, it just happens.

– Jamie Munro, former Head Coach of University of Denver Men’s Lacrosse

 American field players would really help themselves if they were exposed to a steady stream of box experience. Box lacrosse is an extremely valuable background for a young player, we need to incorporate more of the indoor skills in to the field game. It is almost a requirement to have a top player with indoor experience on your roster right now.

– Dom Starsia, University of Virginia Head Coach

I knew that if I wanted to be one of the best players in the world, I would have to dedicate myself to both the indoor and the outdoor game. Playing indoor lacrosse has been a great thing for my career.

– Casey Powell, MLL/NLL All-Star

I believe that box lacrosse gives young people many more opportunities to excel in our game. If I had my choice, I would have every player under the age of twelve play box lacrosse exclusively or at least a majority of the time. The number of touches of the ball and the ability to develop better stick skills in a game of box lacrosse, far surpasses what happens to young people on a 110 x 60 yard field. Learning how to pass and catch in traffic, understanding how to shoot, and developing a sense of physicality are all positive traits developed by the box game.

– Bill Tierney, US Lacrosse Hall of Fame, Denver University Head Coach, Princeton 7x National Champion, Team USA 1998

Gear

New to the sport of Box Lacrosse or even Lacrosse?

Below is a list of what you need to get started. There are a ton of options out there and much of it can be pricey, so look around and find what is best for you.

Starting at the top:

Helmets – If you play outdoor then your normal lacrosse helmet will do just fine. Otherwise you can opt to get a “Box” helmet which is just a hockey helmet with a box lacrosse facemask. Check out www.sidelineswap.com for tons of options, just make sure they are up-to-date with the certification standards (2016 or newer).

Shoulder pads – Most players will wear their outdoor pads like in the image below. As players get older/more experienced they tend to lighten the load and go with more of the liner style (see image above). This is because the game is less about stick checks and more body to body contact and the arms and sides are where the protection is needed most.

Arm pads – Putting elbow pads and arm guards in this one. The main thing to to make sure your arms are covered from glove to shoulder. Longer elbow pads will take up most of the space then a decent arm-pad that connects to your shoulder pads will do the trick. Epoch Lacrosse has a new set made just for players getting started. Check out STX and Warrior as well. Some players will also add a wrist guard to cover any space between their gloves and elbow pads.

Rib Pads – This is a little more unique to box lacrosse although some field players will wear these as well. These cover and protect your ribs and lower back while you play and while not required, are highly recommended. Maximum Lacrosse has a great set that are inexpensive.

Gloves – Again most players will wear their normal gloves and that works perfectly. There are a couple box lacrosse specific gloves out there that offer up a little extra protection on the backhand. Check out or friends Jukebox Lacrosse for their glove options.

Stick – The main thing here is that there are No D-poles allowed in box. All players must use a shorty (Attack or Middie) stick. There are options for box lacrosse specific shafts from just about everyone out there. Sticks break so make sure to have a back-up ready to go.

Cup – Must have. No cup = No Play

Mouthguard – Same as above. No Mouthguard = No Play

Shoes – New Balance makes a box lacrosse specific shoe which is really nice, but don’t run out and buy them right away. Many players wear basketball shoes which are built to withstand the same forces that happen in box lacrosse. We do play on turf so a turf style shoe is an option as well.

Uniform – When you see box lacrosse for the first time, you’ll notice the players wear hockey style jerseys. This is to cover the padding and keep things from getting hung up. Shorts should not have pockets!

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