Getting Kids Outside to Play: Easier Said Than Done

By Ed Foster-Simeon

Ed Foster-Simeon has served as President & CEO of the U.S. Soccer Foundation since 2008 and has more than two decades of experience at the local, state, and national level of the game.

It’s well-known that today’s kids don’t get enough exercise. And it’s a common assumption that this problem exists, in part, because children spend their time watching TV or playing video games or chatting with friends. They just need to get off their phones and tablets and go outside and play, right? Well, it’s not always that simple.

Outdoor recreation might be easy for some youth in suburban areas who have access to parks filled with playgrounds, soccer fields, and other amenities. But for children who live in urban neighborhoods, even in cities like New York with large parks, there is often a lack of public spaces near residential neighborhoods or schools. Due to this lack of access and proximity, children in urban areas are left to find places to play wherever they can find a space. It might be an asphalt lot lined with dumpsters or an alley between buildings; these accessible places aren’t always safe.

Research shows that children living in underserved communities are more than four times as likely to lack recreational facilities. This is significant when you consider that 71 percent of youth don’t get the recommended amount of physical activity, and that one in five school-aged children has obesity. The lack of safe places to play is an added barrier to living a healthy lifestyle for these children.

The solution isn’t as easy as telling our youth they need to go outside and play. We need to help bring safe play spaces—and programming—to the areas where our kids live and go to school.

Our Solution: The “Mini-Pitch”

At the U.S Soccer Foundation we aim to bring quality soccer programming and play spaces to more kids. To further expand our after-school soccer program, Soccer for Success, we knew we needed more quality spaces to play the game, especially in urban areas.

Our solution: build small-sized fields, which we dubbed ‘mini-pitches,’ in abandoned or underutilized spaces. For one of our first projects we built a small pitch, using Sport Court’s futsal surface product, between two housing developments in New York City.

We knew this space would be used for our soccer program. But what we didn’t expect was another result. Even when the program wasn’t being run, the brightly colored pitch attracted both youth and adults to play on the field. During daylight hours, you will almost always see people utilizing the pitch.

As we started to build more of these pitches, we saw more of the same results. We also began to use other materials to build these mini-pitches, often resurfacing lots with an acrylic coating that also provides a quality surface on which to play soccer. We designed the pitches in bright colors, which not only attracted people to use them, but also transformed the look and feel of the neighborhood. We found that for both structured and unstructured play, people were utilizing these spaces often.

blank

Replication through public-private partnerships

After building many of these mini-pitches, we were confident we had a solution that worked. But even though these mini-pitches were economical, and significantly less expensive than full-sized grass or synthetic turf fields, they weren’t free. We started to question how we could implement these projects on a larger scale and bring mini-pitches to more neighborhoods. We found that building public-private partnerships was the key.

A great example of the power of this type of partnership is found in New York City. Last summer, the U.S Soccer Foundation announced that it would partner with the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, adidas, and the New York City Football Club (NYCFC) to build 50 mini-pitches across all five boroughs over the next five years.

The Mayor’s Fund and other city departments embraced these mini-pitches because they addressed inequalities in access to and use of parks and outdoors spaces. NYCFC and adidas liked the idea of joining with the Foundation to bring soccer to more kids who might not otherwise have access to the sport. A bonus is that the pitches would include the organizations’ logos, an excellent branding opportunity that got them in front of potential fans and customers. Together, all partners committed to raising the funds to build 50 mini-pitches throughout the city and provide free programming for residents.

Lessons learned from our first major partnership

1. Strong community partners drive the effort.

For the project to be successful you need a local champion who knows all the partners at the table and can help drive the effort on the ground.

2. Generate cross-sector buy-in.

Engaging non-traditional partners is key. Soccer was a great hook. But we ultimately got partners on board because of the many benefits that come from access to play—including the positive impact on the health outcomes of the entire community.

3. Offer quality programming.

The Foundation’s programming has proven health and social outcomes for participants. Having evidence of this made all in the difference in seeing this project through to the finish line.

The bottom is line is that these mini-pitches address barriers that impede people from being physically active by expanding access to play. In fact, more than 8,000 youth and adults have access to each pitch, on average, in densely populated areas. That translates to hundreds of thousands of people across our cities that have somewhere to exercise and play soccer right in their neighborhoods.

We still have work to do. But pitch by pitch, we are making it a little easier for all our children, no matter where they live, to ‘go outside and play’.

Discussion

Leave your comment below, or reply to others.

Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.

1 Comment

  1. Excellent! Another freakin’ FANTASTIC post. Read of course by your number 1 FANtastic person :)

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org

Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology

Engaging Historically Marginalized Communities During COVID-19

Engaging Historically Marginalized Communities During COVID-19

Since historically marginalized communities are already being disproportionally impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, I am frustrated to see these communities also negatively impacted by the lack of on-the-ground public engagement. While I realize the threat of COVID-19 and the associated restrictions make conducting on-the-ground public engagement challenging, I want to encourage fellow planners to think more creatively. I will admit that I struggled to think creatively when I first heard that Clackamas Community College (CCC) would continue having mostly online classes in Spring Term 2021. CCC has had mostly online classes since the end of Winter Term 2020 when COVID-19 first started impacting Oregon. CCC’s decision about Spring Term 2021 became more stressful when Clackamas County staff told me that public outreach for their new shuttles could not be delayed until next summer.

If Companies Want a Diverse Workforce, They Need to Pay Attention to Transportation

If Companies Want a Diverse Workforce, They Need to Pay Attention to Transportation

A new toolkit has been developed to help businesses think through strategies to decrease mobility barriers to the workplace, which reduces turnover. When workers can reliably get to work regardless of their personal circumstances, it provides employment stability and the opportunity to build wealth. It’s a win-win. Developed through a partnership between Metropolitan Planning Council and a pro bono Boston Consulting Group team, the toolkit includes slide decks, an overview report, customizable templates, a cost calculator, and instructional videos walking a company through the thought process of establishing a baseline situation, evaluating and selecting a solution, and standing up a program.

Depending on the employer’s location and employees’ needs, solutions may range from helping with last-mile transportation to the transit system, to developing on-demand vanpools, to establishing in-house carpool matching systems. The ROI calculator gives employers the ability to determine the break-even cost—the subsidy amount a company can manage without hurting the bottom line.

How Affordable Green Housing Enhances Cities

How Affordable Green Housing Enhances Cities

Housing that is affordable to low-income residents is often substandard and suffering from deferred maintenance, exposing residents to poor air quality and high energy bills. This situation can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory health issues, and siphon scarce dollars from higher value items like more nutritious food, health care, or education. Providing safe, decent, affordable, and healthy housing is one way to address historic inequities in community investment. Engaging with affordable housing and other types of community benefit projects is an important first step toward fully integrating equity into the green building process. In creating a framework for going deeper on equity, our new book, the Blueprint for Affordable Housing (Island Press 2020), starts with the Convention on Human Rights and the fundamental right to housing.  

The Future of Cities

Mayors, planners, futurists, technologists, executives and advocates — hundreds of urban thought leaders publish on Meeting of the Minds. Sign up below to follow the future of cities.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This