Increasing Access to Youth Sports in Hispanic and Latine Communities
By Melissa Wickes
September 19, 2023
There are a lot of challenges in accessibility to sports, we know that—but especially for Hispanic and Latine kids, and even more especially for Hispanic and Latina girls. According to the LA84 Foundation, Hispanic and Latina girls have the lowest amount of athletic participation by demographic in the United States.
To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, we had the opportunity to connect with two incredible sports-based youth development organizations for our panel “Deportes Para Todos” to talk about increasing access to sport in the Hispanic and Latine communities—Uptown Soccer and Chicago Run.
Chicago Run’s mission is to celebrate diversity and outdoor and urban spaces on the South Side of Chicago, and we spoke with their Outreach Coordinator, Hyben Robles to discuss this timely topic. Uptown Soccer is a free soccer program in Northern Manhattan aiming to bring high quality soccer coaching to underserved kids in the community. Forrest Parks, Community Engagement Manager, and Andres Lagunas, Program Coordinator at Chicago Run joined the panel as well.
How does your organization expand access to youth sports for Hispanic and Latine communities?
One of the most crucial parts of creating these programs and strengthening them, according to Forrest and Andres, is including parents in the strategy.
“No one will advocate for the kids better than parents, guardians, and caretakers. Have parents be an advocate for our programs and have them participate so when students go home, what they’re learning in our program is being implemented at home,” says Forrest.
Hyben highlights the importance of marketing programs in both English and Spanish, as well as providing communication vehicles in Spanish so families don’t feel a language barrier stopping them from signing their kids up. At Uptown Soccer, their posters, fliers, postcards, social media, emails, and all other communication vehicles are in both languages.
“Parents will go above and beyond just to make a simple fundraiser work out,” says Hyben. “We try our best to create that bond and relationship between coach and parent.”
Uptown Soccer is based in Northern Manhattan and is expanding to the Bronx, Hyben tells us. In these communities, they really focus on impacting Hispanic and Latine families looking for programs for kids to explore something new without having to spend a ton of money.
“Something that really hits home for me is breaking down narratives on what BIPOC folks believe they can and cannot do,” says Forrest of Chicago Run.
With that said, throughout their career, Forrest has always placed a focus on creating access and room for BIPOC kids to feel like they are runners and to feel like physical activity and sport is for them.
Chicago Run also recruits coaches that reflect the demographics of the players—like having both women and men, coaches that speak both Spanish and English, etc. When Andres encounters a new player that has trouble speaking English or doesn’t speak it at all, for example, he’ll act as a translator to help them make friends.
“Start with community first. No matter who you’re working with, what neighborhood, community, etc. that is where we need to be,” says Forrest. “I think for many organizations we get caught in numbers or goals or where we thought we might be. Understanding the core of what you have to offer and then being flexible enough to continue to shift with what that community is asking for.”
Chicago Run prioritizes recruiting more Hispanic and Latine youth in their programs by pinpointing the specific communities that need them most. By partnering with “anchor institutions” in Hispanic and Latine communities throughout Chicago, they are able to get a better idea of what’s going on in the community—like housing, food security, schools, and movement—and determine how they fit in.
What are some barriers to sport for kids in these communities?
One of the barriers to youth sports in a lot of underserved communities is finances—and as a result access to equipment, play space, etc. Not having access to these things was something that hindered Forrest’s confidence in “feeling like an athlete” as a kid, they explain.
“As I started to grow older and try new sports, I didn’t see anyone who looked like me,” explains Forrest. “For me, claiming those things felt hard until I realized I could find that community and I could build that community. So what informs a lot of the work I do now is finding culturally relevant examples to show students and to make sure the folks who are leading the programs look like them.”
Andres’s role at Chicago Run has a lot to do with making sure each team has what they need to succeed—like equipment, shoes, resistance bands, foam rollers, etc.—as well as coordinating volunteers to help plan races. (The things many kids in underserved communities typically don’t have access to).
Another big barrier to youth sports participation is Hispanic and Latine communities is a language barrier—so Andres urges sports organizers to offer program materials, marketing, and communication in both English and Spanish.
How do you make female athletes feel more comfortable participating in your programs?
Hyben places a huge emphasis on recruiting more female athletes and ensuring that current female players are sticking around—and getting feedback from parents is a big part of that process. She herself is an alumni of Chicago Run, and when she was in the program there were only three girls in it, so it’s extra important to her to make sure the girls in the program feel included, wanted, and successful.
While she emphasizes the importance of girls having the opportunity to play on all girls teams, she makes it a point to have them involved in everything so they can see what they like about the program and don’t like—and so Uptown Soccer and respond accordingly.
How do you ensure youth are getting the most value out of your programs as possible?
Keeping the kids’ culture alive in the programs is extremely important—and some of the ways Chicago Run and Uptown Soccer do this is music, dance, professional soccer, and conversations.
“The majority of our coaches are also from Hispanic and Latine backgrounds,” says Hyben. “They ask kids amazing, relevant questions about their culture to help kids understand their background and feel connected by showing them there are so many other kids like them.”
At Chicago Run, the team emphasizes the importance of making kids feel heard by fostering open communication, asking them questions about their interests, being present, and giving kids the autonomy to choose what they want to do in the programs.
Learn More About Chicago Run and Uptown Soccer
These two organizations are doing incredible work in increasing access to sport where it’s needed most. To learn more about both organizations or to get involved, click the links below.