Your Turn: Group helps build sports participation

This is a great summer for sports fans. A partial line-up includes: NBA and NHL finals, Summer Olympics, baseball, three golf majors, Wimbledon, Copa America and UEFA Euro, more than a dozen NASCAR and Grand Prix races, and the Tour de France.  

This is also a great time for the business of sports.  

For owners: Fifty teams worldwide are worth more than $1 billion (led by the Dallas Cowboys at $4 billion). Ten leagues have revenues larger than $1 billion.

For professional athletes: The average annual salary of an NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL player is $2 million plus. One hundred athletes have annual incomes of $20 million or higher (led by Cristiano Ronaldo’s $88 million).  

For TV stations: Last year, there were 127,000 hours of sports programming and 31 billion hours spent viewing sports. (Super Bowl 2015 had 114 million viewers but this pales in comparison to the billion viewers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup final.)

Despite these dazzling numbers, the world of sports faces serious problems: performance-enhancing drugs; physical injuries; pay-offs, bribes and false reporting; athletes committing violent crimes; fan violence; and disrupted lives for would-be professionals who fail to reach sports’ highest levels.   

But one problem dwarfs the others. Why is it so important?  Because it has an impact on all of us. What is the problem? Sports are too often confined to competitive athletes.   

A few facts: 

• According to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, more than 80 percent of adults do not meet the recommended levels of exercise; only one in three children is active every day; only six states require physical education in every K-12 grade.

• According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America’s Health, 35 percent of American adults are obese and another 34 percent are overweight; 17 percent of children and teenagers are obese and another 15 percent are overweight; adult obesity rates have doubled and child obesity rates have tripled since 1980.  

• According to the Aspen Institute, from 2008 to 2013 the number of active children dropped by 9 percent; 3 million fewer are involved in team sports; the United States leads peer countries in the percent of overweight/obese children.

• According to the Centers for Disease Control, student physical activity is directly linked to better grades, test scores, cognitive abilities (e.g. concentration and memory), school attendance and classroom behavior.    

But, despite this bleak scenario, there is good news. Organizations like California’s Coaching Corps are making a difference. Based in Oakland, Calif., Coaching Corps recruits college students to serve as volunteer coaches, mentors and role models in after-school sports programs in under-resourced communities. So far, 6,700 coaches have served more than 75,000 young people.

Coaching Corps understands that sports are important to health and much more.  In the words of founder and Board Chair Wally J. Haas, “If you look deeper, we are more than just coaches. We promote positive peer relationships, inspire leadership in kids and ensure the emotional and physical safety of all our athletes. We know there is no lesson in life that sports can’t teach … and we teach those lessons.”

So this summer, when you watch those sporting events, you would do well to use them as inspiration for your own feats and the feats of your families and communities. And you would also do well to thank groups like Coaching Corps.