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How Youth Sports Are Able to Positively Impact Low-Income Neighborhoods - by Sarah Daren

From the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
"Helping coaches coach better..."

Sarah Daren is a featured writer on the Today Show website and has been a consultant for organizations across a number of industries including athletics, health and wellness, technology and education. When she's not caring for her children or watching the New York Yankees play, Sarah enjoys practicing yoga and reading a good book on the beach.

Sarah Daren
Sarah Daren

Low-income neighborhoods and communities face significant challenges. Many of these problems most acutely affect the children and youth that live within them. High levels of crime, food insecurity, alcohol and drug abuse, single-parent families, illiteracy, gang activity, and more can make it very difficult for children in low-income areas to stay safe, complete primary education, and experience security and stability.

Missing out on these vital needs that accompany human childhood can cause lifelong disadvantages for individuals. Because of this, interventions that can recreate or foster some of those basic needs for disadvantaged youth can, in many cases, literally change lives and redirect futures away from experiencing the same cyclical poverty or adverse circumstances their parents and communities did.

Here are some of the ways that youth sport programming can accomplish this:

Meeting Basic Needs

For many low-income youth, lack of physical and emotional safety and low levels of food security (access to adequate nutrition) can be extremely common. Home situations can often be volatile because of alcoholic, abusive, or absent parents. When school isn't always available during the day or doesn't feel safe, and other options like parks or recreation centers are either nonexistent or also unsafe, children often don't have anywhere else to go to be secure and cared for. Having access to an afternoon or evening sports club or team can sometimes make a world of difference.

For a precious hour or two a few times a week, they don't have to worry about being alone or about finding themselves in dangerous situations. And when youth sports programming includes a meal or snack, this can meet another important need by helping combat food insecurity.

Promoting Strong Social Skills

Youth sport activities provide opportunities for social interactions and relationships that a low-income young person might not experience in any other setting. From learning teamwork and cooperation to practicing resilience in the face of adversity or loss, sporting contexts can also create opportunities for important socialization and character modeling. Sport can teach youth how to interact not only with people who are on their own teams but how to engage respectfully with competition and authorities like refs, coaches, and volunteers.

Providing Positive Pastimes and Physical Activity

At ages when juvenile delinquency is a pervasive reality for low-income youth, sport programming can provide opportunities to take part in positive, beneficial activities. Youth sport can fill the vacuum of discretionary, unsupervised time that can easily become occupied with delinquent or gang-related activity. An additional perk that youth sport affords low-income youth is an opportunity to engage in physical exercise and movement.

Today's young generations are more tech-bound and sedentary than ever. Youth sport programs can provide natural opportunities to incorporate regular physical activity for low-income youth which can promote health, mitigate unhealthy weight gain, and improve sleep and mood.

youth mentor

Making Role Models Available

The life stories of countless youth who were able to escape the poverty of their parents and communities to pursue a better life almost always include some kind of role model or positive authority figure that believed in them - a person that helped them see past their surroundings and reach for something better. Throughout the world of sport, a similar pattern exists.

Athletes very often herald specific coaches or sport leaders that had a profound impact on their lives or the way they see the world. Youth sport programming in low-income areas can provide a perfect environment for youth that don't have positive role models elsewhere in their lives to learn from coaches or volunteers.

youth mentor

Encouraging Education and Future Aspirations

Many types of sport programs naturally foster a respect for, and interest in, completing education and pursuing careers or productive futures. This might happen for young athletes who are interested in pursuing collegiate sports scholarships to continue playing sport, or for players that are inspired to pursue a career within the sport industry because of their youth sport involvement.

These kinds of effects are often organic and can be fostered without much intentionality. However, many sports programs are also integrating overt curriculum or elements that encourage their participants to value education and to pursue stable careers as they grow older. These sport programs and organizations can make strong impacts on the participants that enjoy their programming. They can often show statistical differences in the rates at which their participants pursue college and/or jobs as compared with control groups.

Sports programs can create significant benefits for low-income young people. They provide effective, cost-efficient tools to help low-income areas better serve their youth.

Articles by Sarah Daren