The Federal Government is Not Taking Over Your Little League, and More Learnings About Youth Sports Policy from the Project Play Summit

By Melissa Wickes
May 22, 2024
3 min

If you don’t know how to play the game, you’re not gonna fix the game. That’s how Ashleigh Huffman, Ph.D., former Chief of Sports Diplomacy at the U.S. Department of State and consultant for Project Play, opened up her panel about building a youth sports policy agenda at the Aspen Institute’s Power Play Summit last week. 

And she’s right. We work with so many incredible youth sports organizations that genuinely want to bring sports to as many kids as possible, but they can only do so much without government policy on their side. 

If every kid can’t access sports, we’re not doing enough.  So, in addition to building game-changing software to help organizations manage their day-to-day (and, of course, giving that software away for free through FundPlay Foundation), we’re committed to advocating for policy changes that will put funding in the hands of the grassroots organizations who are bringing the game to children. 

At this year’s Aspen Institute Project Play Summit, LeagueApps President Jeremy Goldberg joined a panel of youth sports policy leaders to create an agenda. Ultimately, the goals of a youth sports policy agenda are to:

  • Keep kids safe—preventing injury, burnout, and abuse 
  • Make sport accessible—through community centers and other affordability tactics
  • Govern sport better—Hold people accountable. You can have all the policies in the world but if no ones enforcing them, policies fall on deaf ears

Here are the main takeaways from the panel:   

No one wants the federal government to take over youth sports

Let’s get one thing straight—no one wants the federal government to take over Little League, like some of our government officials think

The reality is, government entities like the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, are not looking to come in and control what goes on on the playing field—that’s happening at the local level.  

However, they do have a birds-eye view of the gaps in youth sports participation. For example, 50% of kids are still not playing sports. What kind of policies can the federal government work to enact to ensure that number goes up?

Youth sports needs more funding 

Identifying the disparities in youth sports participation is the first step. The bigger (potentially harder) step is to identify the funding that will make youth sports more accessible, especially in more vulnerable communities (low-income, LGBTQ, to name a few).

In some cases [youth sports] is a victim of its own success,” says Jeremy. “It has physical health benefits, mental health benefits, career development benefits, and more. So what budget does it fit into?”

This is where the federal government comes in (not to regulate how many minutes each kid plays). If the federal government can help create dedicated grant programs for grassroots sports programs, it will send signals to the private sector that youth sports are more than just games. 

“It’s helping people win at life,” says Jeremy. 

The PLAYS in Youth Sports Act is an example of a bill that would authorize specific grants (at the federal and state level) to support these programs. No need to beg for claimed revenue to fund these programs because they would create new sources of revenue. 

For example, the Play Sports Coalition is working to influence legislation that would allocate state tax revenue from legalized sports betting to support youth sports program nonprofits in underserved communities. 

In order to advocate for legislation like this, Jeremy emphasizes the importance of bringing impactful, local organizations into communities to testify about the importance of sports and share their compelling stories and it connects government officials to local voices. 

We all have the same goal—healthier and happier children

“Roll up your sleeves and grind it out,” says Jeremy.

This isn’t about federal takeovers, it’s about ensuring every child has access to the benefits of youth sports—and in some way, everyone can relate to that. 

“Laws are supposed to prevent discrimination and promote equal access,” says U.S. Paralympic champion Tatyana McFadden. “But even though there are laws in place, people can still go around them.” And that’s where accountability comes in.

“Very few of the areas where policies pass have the universal power of what sports have to offer,” says Jeremy. 

“Sports are one of the few things that connects us, humanizes us, and the lifetime effects are so profound. If we can unify what we’re asking for, understand the dynamics of what we’re asking for, people will listen and that will lead to action.” 

When the youth sports advocates in the room were asked what policy ideas they’d like to see in the youth sports policy agenda, these were some of their answers: 

  • Equity
  • Coach training mandate
  • Safety
  • Sports for all
  • Funding
  • Local leagues
  • Equity 
  • Funding for coach training
  • DEI 
  •  Low income access
  • Gender equality
  • Preservation of green space 

We as a youth sports community have the opportunity (some might say obligation) to ensure every kid has a chance to play. Ashleigh recalls the “four Ps” of social justice theory to help us get started somewhere:

  • Policy
  • Programs
  • Public advocacy
  • Press

Are you are interested in getting more involved in youth sports advocacy? Please reach out to the PLAY Sports Coalition at