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Play Like a Champion Hosts Summits on COVID-19 Response in Youth Sports

As our world experiences a crisis of unprecedented magnitude, our national partners have shared with us heartbreaking stories about athletes losing the end of their winter season or the entirety of spring sports. Our thoughts and sympathies go out to all of these athletes, especially the seniors who may have lost their final opportunity to play on a competitive team. For most of the world, this is a major inconvenience and means a significant, uncomfortable and unwanted change in our lives. But for some children, this crisis is a matter of life and death.

Play Like a Champion would like to call attention to the faces of the children and adolescents who live in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty. When schools close and after-school sports opportunities that support these children are cancelled, many of these children are left without food or a safe shelter; the caring coaches who encourage, mentor, and love them leave a large void when they're not able to be around. As our partners in the North Lawndale Athletic and Recreation Association (NLARA) noted this week, their work with youth in sport is “saving lives on the front end.”

Play Like a Champion has so far hosted two opportunities for our partners to come together virtually for a Youth Sport Summit on COVID-19: “How it is Affecting Our Communities”. More summits are scheduled in the coming weeks. The goal of these video gatherings is to bring together our partners in kinship: to discuss how the current situation is impacting communities, what needs exist, best practices, and how groups and individuals can support each other. In times like these, we need each other’s friendship, presence and support more than ever. Summit participants were coaches and administrators from youth sport organizations in Chicagoland the Michiana region of Indiana and St. Louis. The virtual Summits were moderated by Professor Clark Power with Play Like a Champion staff listening and taking careful notes of attendees challenges. All attendees had the opportunity to respond to how this crisis impacts the youth they work with.

Coach Derek Brown of Boxing Out Negativity spoke of the value of coming together, saying “This is family, this is community. It doesn’t matter where you were born or how you were raised, but we’re just all people trying to work together to save the people we love.”

Here are the primary concerns and challenges for our Play Like a Champion family:

  • Every participant pointed out that they are making efforts to stay in touch with their kids in some manner. They express how critically important it is to maintain some form of engagement. Coaches are calling and texting athletes and families and some administrators are going door to door to provide encouragement and other tangible resources, like food or technology. Many were trying to keep programming open with the minimum of participants and spacing children; however, these measures are now restricted as shelter-in-place and stay-a-home orders are rolled out across communities.

  • A significant challenge is that many families in these areas do not have internet, so opportunities for distance learning and online resources for movement are simply not available to them. Many partners are deeply concerned about food for their athletes, as families cannot afford to build up their food supply and when they do go to the store, the shelves are empty of basic supplies. Delivering food to families has become the “new normal” for coaches.

  • Several partners expressed concern of “losing kids to the streets” when they cannot be with their support programs. Two partner said there has been an uptick in violence in the neighborhood as people experience angst over the pandemic and their fear brings forth violent behavior.

  • Partners expressed worry as well for their organizations that rely on donations to exist. Uncertainty over how long they will be able to pay staff and continue functioning is very real.

  • While kids are home, concerns include both boredom and too much screen time. Partners shared ways they are encouraging kids to be physically active, including posting movement ideas and workouts on Snapchat or YouTube, while creating Facebook groups that promote movement and resources to this end. Participants stressed the need to be creative to keep kids engaged. Ideas included hosting virtual scavenger hunts, nightly sport video game tournaments, or daily movement challenges. As an incentive, some partners are offering a drawing for small gift cards upon completion of the challenge. One partner also utilizes Facebook Live to share a message of encouragement every day, attending to the emotional health of kids.

As a result of these Summits, Play Like a Champion has created an online page dedicated to sharing resources and ideas designed to keep kids moving while at home. Visit to get links to these resources, then share your own resources with us via social media or email and we'll add them to the page.

Coach Charles Rice of the North Lawndale Eagles football program shared a lesson he's learned in his year's of coaching: Tomorrow is never promised to us. That has been ingrained in us because we can hug and kiss a child today at practice and then the next day they aren’t there.” He identified that COVID-19 is yet another challenge but not one that is any more insurmountable as the day to day challenges in his community.

Coach Derek Brown provided some inspiration to all of us with his parting words, Stay strong and keep it moving. We are the leaders that our children look up to and we need to be there to lift our kids up during this time of anxiety and isolation. That’s my only need, is to keep loving and keep caring.” Likewise, Hardie Blake, Pastor of the Ardmore LaSalle Church of Christ in South Bend, IN reminded our community, “We need one another. Having compassion, love and encouragement is so important.”

Darrin and Debra Brown of The Investment Basketball express this simply, “In this time, we need prayer for wisdom.”

Play Like a Champion loves our partners and greatly values what they provide for children: a safe space to play, positive and encouraging mentorship, and most especially hope. We stand together with you in this difficult time. Our prayers are being lifted up.

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