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A new report examines the state of play

The State of Play—a national report on youth sports—was released Thursday by the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation and the Rochester Area Community Foundation.

The Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes region received a C+ rating in getting kids active through sports, according to an online survey of youth sport providers and other stakeholders in the report.

Knowing the information gives the region a starting point, officials say.

“The report outlines opportunities for improvement overall; getting kids active is something that will pay off for the kids as well as for future costs,” said Jennifer Leonard, president and CEO of the Rochester Area Community Foundation. That’s a good general goal for the community.”

The region’s findings include:

  • Children are not active enough at the recommended healthy level: Some 81 percent of parents believe it is important to have their children regularly involved in sports, however, only 12 percent of youth across the region are physically active one hour a day. The hour-a-day level is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Activity vs. sports: A Johns Hopkins University analysis projects that if stakeholders in the region can get and keep just 25 percent of youth active daily, that 6,989 fewer youth would be overweight and obese. That effort would save the region over $243 million in direct medical costs and workplace productivity losses.
  • More organized team settings, less neighborhood activities: Children are participating in fewer sports and activities near their homes, and are primarily playing in organized team settings, a break from the past.
  • Room for improvement in the region: The Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes region deserves a C+ in getting youths active through sports. A C+ grade aligns with research by the Washington, D.C.-based Aspen Institute, which found many innovative organizations and grassroots champions dedicated to youth but also gaps in program access, especially in low-income and rural areas, the report states.

The Youth Sports Task Force for the Rochester Region—over three dozen representatives of youth sports, recreation programs and local communities—is overseen by the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation.

The research process took eight months to complete.

“We have a lot of good sports facilities, but they aren’t all located where kids can access them. So the report recommends revitalizing in-town leagues and creating smaller spaces where kids can get active,” Leonard said. “Those are bite-sized opportunities for smaller communities to increase youth activities in ways that should be pretty affordable.”

The state of play locally should move community members to action, said Tom Farrey, executive director of the Aspen Institute Sports and Society Program.

“Research shows active children do better in life,” he said in a statement. “So how do we get more kids off the couch without running them into the ground? It starts with a clear-eyed account of how well a community is currently serving kids through sports. We hope this report—the first of its kind nationally—provides valuable insights that can help mobilize stakeholders.”

To improve, there are specific areas the region can focus on, broken down into eight “plays”:

  1. Ask kids what they want
  2. Reintroduce free play
  3. Encourage sports sampling
  4. Revitalize in-town leagues
  5. Think small
  6. Design for development
  7. Train all coaches
  8. Emphasize prevention.

Helping youth is a focus of the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation.

It was created to help the quality of life of people in Southeast Michigan—where Wilson grew up—and Western New York, home of the Buffalo Bills. Wilson was founder and owner of the franchise. The foundation has the grant making capacity of $1.2 billion over a 20-year period.

Everyone in the community needs to take ownership of the region’s challenges when it comes to youth, said David Egner, president and CEO of the foundation.

“Our vision is to have a Greater Rochester community in which all children, regardless of ZIP code or ability, have the opportunity to be active through sports,” he said. “The State of Play report identifies the challenges we face as a region, but more importantly, it also shares the opportunities that all of us in the community—parents, educators, funders, and leaders—can pursue for improvement.”

Rochester has a lot of positives to work with, Leonard said.

“The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation and the Rochester Area Community Foundation will be using this report and its in-depth recommendations to guide grant making for youth sports in the community,” she said. “We also hope that youth sports providers in the community and local government and, in general, youth and child programs, will use this as a guide for their own planning.”

kfeltner@bridgetowermedia.com / 585-653-4020

(c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-363-7269 or email madams@bridgetowermedia.com.

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