Supporting Youth Sports in Congress

July 1, 2014, Department, by Kaitlin Helms Wolf

Rep. Mike McIntyre is a strong advocate of youth sports.In 2005, the Citizenship Through Sports Alliance released the first-ever Report Card on Youth Sports in America. The report graded youth sports in five different categories — child-centered philosophy, coaching, health and safety, officiating, and parental behavior and involvement. The results were alarming. It was a report card no parent would have deemed acceptable.

A number of unsettling trends had taken shape in youth sports — the rise of the “win-at-all-cost” mentality, the push for early sports specialization, poor sportsmanship among parents and coaches, and an increasing number of overinvested parents seeking sports scholarships. The report card was a wake-up call. Our efforts must be redoubled to provide a positive and safe sports environment for our kids. 

As a Little League coach himself, Rep. McIntyre knew the difference that sports can make in the life of a child. Not only do studies show that student athletes make better grades in school, are less likely to be obese, get in less trouble and are more likely to be successful later in the workplace, sports also teach values like good sportsmanship, discipline, civility, respect and teamwork. In fact, sports have the opportunity to help shape the character of each child who walks onto the field. 

In 2006, Rep. McIntyre  launched the Congressional Caucus on Youth Sports, a bipartisan organization committed to bringing fun, recreation and character development back to the forefront of youth sports. Over the years, the caucus has expanded its mission to combat childhood obesity and promote fitness, nutrition and overall healthy lifestyles among our nation’s youth. The caucus also seeks to support and strengthen the efforts of the abundance of organizations, both national and local, tirelessly working to improve the state of youth sports in our country for the 44 million American children who participate. 

In 2011, Rep. McIntyre worked with park and recreation directors in his district to host “Southeastern N.C. in Motion!” The event featured an ensemble of interactive stations where children could experience a variety of recreational opportunities and learn about good nutrition. Kids were able to practice their swing with the PGA, “go long” with Carolina Panthers, and hear an inspiring story about sportsmanship from 2008 U.S. Track and Field Olympian MeChelle Lewis. Thanks to the support of his partners on the ground and other exceptional organizations, Rep. McIntyre was able to provide a tangible opportunity for kids, regardless of their age, fitness level or socioeconomic status, to be active, learn about healthy eating and experience the benefits of wellness. 

In 2012, Rep. McIntyre and Sen. Tom Harkin commissioned a Government Accountability Office study on the state of youth sports in the United States. The report, entitled “School-Based Physical Education (P.E.) and Sports Programs,” discussed the challenges of providing P.E. and sports opportunities within the school system. Rep. McIntyre briefed NRPA on the study’s results and hosted a panel discussion with P.E. and youth sports stakeholders to discuss ways in which states, schools and communities might mitigate those challenges. 

In 2013, with the help of NRPA and other notable sports organizations, Rep. McIntyre released the 113th Congress Youth Sports Legislative Agenda, entitled “F.A.N.S. for Youth Sports.” The agenda is a compilation of current legislation that augments the mission of the Congressional Caucus on Youth Sports and is the third of its kind with two other agendas released in the 110th and 112th Congresses. Each legislative measure included in the agenda supports one of the four F.A.N.S. pillars — Fitness, Access, Nutrition and Safety. Together, these proposals provide suitable spaces, requisite resources, invaluable instruction and paramount protection to create an environment friendly to youth sports activities.

The caucus has also hosted briefings on important youth sports-related issues like concussions, childhood obesity, and susceptibility and prevention of knee injuries. 

It is important for youth sports and recreation to have a voice in Congress. Physical activity has declined in the U.S. by 32 percent since 1965. Physical inactivity leads to obesity-related health problems, and, in too many cases, premature death. Ranking second in the leading causes of preventable death in the U.S., obesity kills an estimated 300,000 Americans each year. With 12.5 million obese children in the U.S. today, the direct cost of childhood obesity in this country is $14.3 billion per year. When combined with adult obesity, that number rises to $147 billion. Looking at the big picture, the “win-at-all-cost” mentality seems especially trivial. These numbers further illustrate the importance of providing safe and fun sports opportunities that promote character development and encourage lifelong healthy lifestyles. 

NRPA has partnered with Rep. McIntyre to advocate for youth sports and recreation in Congress, and together, we have supported a number of bills and legislative initiatives aimed at improving youth sports and recreation in the U.S. Some examples are included below.

  • The Community Parks Revitalization Act, H.R. 2424, was introduced by Rep. Albio Sires in June 2013. The bill would empower communities to rebuild, remodel, expand and/or develop recreational areas and facilities. The bill also connects localities with innovative programming targeted at returning veterans, at-risk youth and military families. 
  • Since 1965, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has made critical investments in close-to-home parks and outdoor recreation facilities in both urban and rural areas in all 50 states. Rep. McIntyre and NRPA have worked together to maintain robust support for this critical program.
  • Similarly, Rep. McIntyre and NRPA have advocated for passage of H.R. 2727. This bill was introduced by Rep. David McKinley in July 2013 and would strengthen the State Assistance Program by preserving the ability of states to use LWCF. The LWCF State Assistance Program has funded projects in every county across the country and has ensured access to ballparks, soccer fields and green spaces for millions of youth. 
  • Finally, the Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act, a bill strongly supported by Rep. McIntyre and the youth sports industry, would provide incentives for healthy and active lifestyles. The PHIT bill was introduced in the most recent Congress by Rep. Ron Kind as H.R. 956 in March 2013. It would allow Americans to use pretax medical accounts to pay for physical activity expenses, ultimately reducing the costs of staying active. This in turn will help prevent healthcare costs brought on by obesity and sedentary lifestyles.

Though the battle seems uphill, we can make a difference at the national level by supporting programs that provide our kids with safe, adequate facilities and resources. As author John Whitehead once said, “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” Let us never be too busy to help a child.

NRPA has honored Rep. McIntyre with its National Congressional Award for his work with children’s health and with the Congressional Caucus on Youth Sports, of which he is founder and co-chairman.

Kaitlin Helms Wolf is the Deputy Legislative Director for Rep. McIntyre.