When COVID-19 first became a reality, who would have ever imagined it would last so long? With so much uncertainty, confusion and ever-evolving information, the Play Like a Champion Today organization has chosen to respond with great love. Our program focuses first on relationships, caring for and walking alongside our youth and high school partner organizations. After months of isolation and ongoing social distancing, coming together in kinship with our Play Like a Champion family has become a powerful force.
In the spring of 2020, we began hosting Partner Summits, virtual zoom gatherings to check in with each other, commiserate, and share resources. During these Summits, we listened. We saw our partners struggling in various ways. Athletic directors were consoling athletes who lost their sport seasons, parents were struggling to work from home and help their children with school, athletes were challenged to independently stay in shape physically and mentally.
In response, we generated resources for coaches, parents and athletes to stay healthy by using our physical movement options, mental skills training and mental health resources. All of these tools remain accessible on our website, https://www.playlikeachampion.org/covid19
We listened to parents when they said they were overwhelmed, so we created a workshop to help them cope. Following the workshop, we listened again. Parents were concerned about not having summer camps for their children, so we responded and hosted three weeks of Virtual Summer Sport Camps. Over 600 families—nearly 1000 children—registered for the experience. A normal camp day included a welcome and “joke of the day”; a sport specific drill (we covered baseball, softball, basketball, soccer, hockey, lacrosse, football, jump roping); an aerobic workout (one day featured yoga); virtual games, a character lesson; daily mindfulness meditation; and a closing dance. Thirty coaches from diverse backgrounds and cities from all across the United States and Canada collaborated at the camp to get kids moving, learning, and laughing. All the sessions were recorded so families could continue to access the camp throughout the entire summer. If you are interested in being a part of the experience, please contact us to request access at playlikeachampion.org.
Every June, we have a “family reunion” in the form of our Play Like a Champion Sports Leadership Conference. We hosted the 2020 event virtually with some well-known speakers, including Fr. Greg Boyle, Jay Wright, Dick Vitale, and Lou Holtz. This year’s conference placed a significant focus on racial justice with breakout group discussions following all plenary sessions. We invite you to view the sessions to be a part of our community.
A core project for Play Like a Champion is continuing to advocate for “A Team for Every Child.” Children from low income families play sport at much lower rates in today’s unfortunate “pay to play” sports culture. COVID has widened this play gap even further. We’ve watched our partners in the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago and the Michiana area in Indiana do all they can to stay connected with athletes who need caring coach mentors more than ever to keep them moving, attend to their mental health, and even provide food or technology resources. Coaches say this work is saving children’s lives on the front end and is a tangible way of attacking systemic racism and inequality in our cities. This video shares the story of “A Team for Every Child.”
Play Like a Champion is working with all of our partners (youth sport leagues and high schools) to discuss ways in which we can help athletic directors around the country to build cultures of “kinship” within their athletic departments, sports teams, and communities. Following George Floyd’s death in June and the Black Lives Matter protests across the country, Play Like a Champion released this statement on racism. All of us as individuals and as coach-educators have a moral and civic responsibility to address a long history of racial injustice, aptly described as America’s “original sin.” Rosalynn Carter said, “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” We need great leadership today, and Play Like a Champion is committed to work for all our country’s children so that every child can receive the benefits of a safe, fun and developmentally-focused sports team.
Finally, this summer Play Like a Champion was named a Project Play 2020 Champion. We are thrilled to be recognized for the good work we are doing to elevate children’s sport experience. This past fall, Play Like a Champion began work in partnership with the Miami Catholic School system to create a Physical Education Curriculum for grades 5–8 to roll out diocesan-wide this year. The curriculum will focus on teaching general physical literacy and goal setting skills in four areas: physical, mental, moral and spiritual goals will be tracked and recorded. At the end of the curriculum, Play Like a Champion will conduct an evaluation of the experience and discover its outcomes and areas for improvement.
In challenging times, Play Like a Champion listened and responded with love and support. We continue to listen. We hear the ongoing struggles for our children and we will continue to respond.