The U.S. Bobsled & Skeleton Federation (USBSF) has announced a partnership with the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program and its Project Play initiative, a multi-stage effort to provide the thought leadership to build "Sport for All, Play for Life" communities that foster a culture of health. The current phase is focused on reimaging youth sports in America, exploring ways that stakeholders can deliver universal access to an early positive sports experience.
In an era when tryout-based, multi-season travel teams are the norm by age six, Project Play convenes leaders from across sectors to identify breakthrough strategies that can allow all children in all communities to enjoy, and stay physically active, through sports.
"There are a number of troubling trends we are seeing with youth sports," said Darrin Steele, USBSF chief executive officer. "Fewer kids are participating, there's an increasing emphasis to specialize in one sport, and the focus on becoming elite athletes has compromised many of the valuable lessons that should be learned. The increase in inactivity with our kids has also contributed to the rise in childhood obesity. Project Play is finding ways to reverse these trends and get back to the basics of having fun, building character, promoting teamwork, and keeping kids active. These are all traits that have been integral for our athletes in their journey to the National and Olympic team and we are proud to support Project Play in their mission."
The USBSF is joining the conversation by dedicating a national team bobsled wrap to Project Play to raise awareness of the once-in-generation effort to develop a plan around youth sports. A survey of USA Bobsled & Skeleton national team athletes conducted by the Sports & Society Program show that nearly all were multi-sport athletes through high school, and in fact few were introduced to bobsled or skeleton until they were adults. The skills bobsled and skeleton athletes learned while participating in various sports throughout their lives provided the tools necessary to succeed on and off the ice.
The Project Play sled reflects the athletic development pathway of bobsled athletes, with a design that incorporates balls from baseball, soccer, basketball and other sports.
"I think it's great that USA Bobsled and Skeleton is recognizing the role of other sports in the making of elite athletes," said Tom Farrey, executive director of the Sports & Society Program at the Aspen Institute, a not-for-profit educational organization. "It's consistent with the research, and sets a terrific example for other sports who too often send a message to kids that the only way to compete at the highest level is by focusing on one sport at an early age. Imagine if other sports followed USBSF's lead and promoted all-around athleticism, physical literacy and sheer love of game into the teenage years. It would transform youth sports in America -- and change millions of lives for the better."
Athletes don't grow up wanting to become bobsled or skeleton athletes. Elana Meyers-Taylor played shortstop and pitched on George Washington University's softball team, and was named to the ECAC Division I All-Star team in July 2007. Unbeknownst to her, Meyers Taylor would earn her first of two Olympic medals as a bobsledder just three years later. Three-time Olympian Curt Tomasevicz played football for the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers and was named an Academic All Big 12 in 2002 before becoming an Olympic bobsled gold medalist in 2010 and a bronze medalist in 2014. Three-time Olympic bobsled gold and bronze medalist Steven Holcomb grew up on the ski slopes of Park City, Utah. Olympic skeleton silver medalist Noelle Pikus-Pace competed as a track and field athlete while in college, and continues to play pick-up softball, kickball and basketball games.
Every bobsled and skeleton athlete has a story of how playing sports as a kid gave them the building blocks needed to build a path towards making an appearance on the world's stage. Their pathway, and the federation's support for the Aspen Institute initiative, will be highlighted at the Project Play Summit on Feb. 25 in Washington, D.C., where 300 sport, health and other leaders will convene to explore and activate on forthcoming report, "Sport for All, Play for Life: A Playbook to Get Every Kid in the Game." Steele will support the initiative by participating in the summit as a panelist before traveling to the 2015 World Championships in Winterberg, Germany.
About the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation: The United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation, based in Lake Placid, N.Y., is the national governing body for the sports of bobsled and skeleton in the United States. The USBSF would like to thank its sponsors, suppliers and contributors for their support: BMW of North America, Century 21 Real Estate, Under Armour, Kampgrounds of America CEVA Logistics, Boomerang Carnets, Latta Kefir, Azad Watches, Park City Lodging, Inc., Classroom Champions, Aspen Institute's Project Play, EDAS/Ripxx, Tesa Tape, UberSense and Ferris Mfg. Corp. For more information, please visit the USBSF website at http://bobsled.teamusa.org.