Aspen Institute Study Calls on Cities to Help Shape Youth Sports

This week, the Aspen Institute hosts its annual Project Play Summit in Washington DC, with such luminaries as Kobe Bryant, Tony Hawk and Jackie Joyner-Kersee on hand to discuss “building healthy communities through sports”.  While the summit highlights a wide range of topics in an expansive and forward-thinking manner, much of the Institute’s work is done between the conferences.  An excellent example of that is the “State of Play: Mobile County” report that was released just about a week before the conference.

In the “Game Changer” section of the report (see page 28 of the full report), the study notes that Mobile County took the proactive step of banning a local youth football league from its parks due to a history of atrocious sideline behavior.

Sherri Mims, the County’s parks and recreation chief who initiated that ban, spoke to the unique nature of her actions, noting in the study, “Apparently I’m the first one to put their foot down and say enough is enough”.

Building on that example, the Institute recommends that counties and cities use the “power of the permit” to shape the way youth sports serves their citizens.  The study concludes that local governments can play a critical role in shaping youth sports for the better by simply changing the way it grants access to its facilities.

This idea seems like something government should be doing already, doesn’t it?  Why else have a permit if it’s not to regulate how facilities are used?  But most municipalities pay little attention beyond ensuring that the government itself won’t be sued if something goes wrong.

I’ll be the first to admit that gambling and drug use, which were present in the Mobile example, are not common problems on most youth sports sidelines.  But is embezzlement something that local government should be tolerating?

The two largest sports nonprofits in my hometown lost nearly half a million to embezzlement in just over three years, all while using city fields and facilities for next to nothing.  Think of what that means: taxpayers pay for the facilities themselves, then pay fees to the leagues, and then see their money disappear.

Given how easy it is for even a very small nonprofit to prevent embezzlement, it is shocking that more local governments don’t take a more proactive role in ensuring that leagues they partner with protect taxpayer resources.

For more information, visit the SportsOrganized.Com website, which hosts resources to help youth sports organizations pursue organizational excellence.  Or drop us a line at with any questions, comments or suggestions you might have.  We especially love to hear from organizations about best practices that work well.  Share your knowledge with others!