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“Sports Make Me Feel Wanted and Like I Belong”: Sports 4 Life Program Spotlight

On May 5, the Women’s Sports Foundation and espnW announced the 2016 recipients of the Sports 4 Life grant initiative. The Sports 4 Life program is serving an unprecedented forty organizations this year and, since its inception in 2015, has awarded 82 grants to 77 organizations across the United States.

This national effort is helping local organizations increase the participation and retention of African-American and Hispanic girls in youth athletics, two communities that are underserved and underrepresented in sports. Sports 4 Life also aims to use sports participation as a vehicle to create leadership opportunities and to improve the overall physical health of girls of color.

Survey results from girls in organizations receiving Sports 4 Life funding in 2015 found that the vast majority, 95 percent, plan to be involved with sports and exercise as an adult, placing themselves at a lower risk for chronic diseases, like diabetes, obesity, depression and cardiovascular diseases. All of these conditions are more prevalent among African-American and Hispanic females who display lower athletic participation rates and higher barrier to entry in sports.

The Utah Development Academy (UDA), based in Salt Lake City, Utah, received a Sports 4 Life grant one year ago in May 2015. As a result of our support, UDA can provide skilled coaching services, soccer equipment, and cover expenses for two competitive girls’ soccer teams serving African American, Hispanic and Pacific Islander communities.

Libby Stockstill, coach and girls’ program coordinator at Utah Development Academy, shared, “There are no other soccer organizations in the Westside neighborhoods competing in the Utah Youth Soccer Association, nor are there other sports organizations accepting players regardless of socio-economic status. Our organization has the benefit of working with amazing young women who, with the exception of two girls, had never participated in organized sports.”

Coach Stockstill and her team at Utah Development Academy reach girls that would otherwise have limited access, or no access to sports at all. WSF and UDA are working together to get girls in the game like 16-year-old Erica*:

Erica began with the UDA program as a young girl who had difficulty attending games and practices in a consistent manner, very poor grades, and frequently fought with other girls. Erica also had poor eating and sleeping habits and substance abuse issues. Since joining the Academy’s girls’ soccer team, Erica’s grades have improved dramatically. She is back on track to graduate and the first in her family to become a high school graduate. A young girl once prone to fighting has become an exceptionally talented soccer player with great composure on the field.

“When the game gets physical, Erica is the first one to offer a hand off the ground, and the first one to walk away from anyone trying to pick a fight. Erica is at every team function, early, and puts all her effort into serving her team and community. Staff has also noticed that the girls on the younger team look up to her, are making more of an effort to get to know her, and ask her for advice,” said Stockstill.

Survey results from girls in organizations receiving Sports 4 Life funding in 2015 found 92 percent felt confident or somewhat confident about their body and 93 percent felt their body was getting healthier.

Erica shared that playing soccer has helped her improve her social skills, value school, and helped her push through difficult situations. She expressed, “[Playing] has made me overcome my fears of talking to new people. I’ve always had that fear since I was little. UDA makes me feel like I’m actually wanted and part of something…and it made me get good grades and stay successful no matter how hard it is!!!”

Playing Changes Everything. Learn more about our Sports 4 Life grant recipients, here.

*Alias provided