Our vision is for all kids in the community must have the opportunity to play in a safe and nurturing sports environment. And this is why…
Youth Sports in Chicago’s North Lawndale Community:
An Assessment of Needs and Assets
In this report, we assess the resources and needs of athletic programs within the North Lawndale community and describe the role that youth and high school sports play in cultivating the competencies, skills, and social networks that all children need to succeed in school, secure future employment, and contribute to society. We conclude by recommending the development of the North Lawndale Athletic and Recreation Association (NLARA), a community-based organization charged with ensuring that children in the community have the opportunity to participate in year-round sports programs in a safe and nurturing environment with a strong mentoring component.
Youth Sports in North Lawndale: Crisis and Opportunity
For over 150 years, educators and civic leaders have recognized that engagement in sports and in other outside-of-school activities play vital role in children’s education and development. Yet over the past several decades, cuts in public spending and the fragmentation of social networks in North Lawndale have shifted the burden of financing youth sports organizations from the public sphere to individual families. Severe cuts to Chicago Public Schools’ discretionary budgets, increased fees for participation in parks and recreation programs, and closings of church and community-financed sports organizations have had a devastating effect in North Lawndale. Forced to “pay to play,” the youth of North Lawndale are being excluded from the benefits of sports participation, which children in more affluent communities take for granted. The youth sports leaders in North Lawndale believe that with the support of the NLARA, youth sports can have transformative influence on the youth in the community.
Needs Assessment Summary
Over the summer of 2017, a needs assessment of the North Lawndale community was conducted consisting of interviews with athletic directors and coaches from 27 sports organizations serving over 2,500 children ages 7-19. In spite of the funding cuts, most of the children playing sports in North Lawndale do so through the public schools. Sports participation rates in each school vary widely as a function of resources available for athletics as well as the resourcefulness of the athletic director, principal and coaches. Many children participate in community-based leagues, teams and training programs operating after-school and summer programs. These are typically led by highly qualified and strong coach/mentors, who often pay out of their pockets to help maintain their programs.
There are many dedicated youth sports leaders with strong backgrounds in coaching and youth mentoring. These leaders demonstrated over the course of the needs assessment process a willingness to coordinate their efforts for the benefit of the community. There is also a strong commitment to support youth sport programs among the social agencies, schools and medical service providers in North Lawndale.
The study revealed that youth programs based in the schools or in community organizations face a number of common problems and challenges:
- Most of the programs function independently of each other with little or no coordination with other programs in the community.
- Most of the programs lack sustainable funding sources and must scramble from year to year to sustain their budgets.
- Safety concerns, limited availability of transportation, and parent time constraints inhibit youth participation.
- More indoor and outdoor sports facilities are needed, particularly in certain areas.
- There are not enough teams and programs throughout the school year and summer to accommodate the children who would like to participate.
- There are fewer programs available to girls and young women than boys; very few women are coaching.
- There are very limited sports opportunities offered to children younger than age 11. However, youth sports leaders in North Lawndale believe that sports programs should be provided for children starting at ages 6 and 7 before they become involved in “activities on the streets.”
- Gang-related violence and crime is an ongoing concern, which youth sports leaders believe can be effectively addressed by increasing the number of after-school and summer sports programs.
The findings of the needs assessment led to the establishment of the North Lawndale Athletic and Recreation Association, an independent, non-profit organization focused on developing community partnerships to create and coordinate sustainable athletic activities programs and resources for kindergarten through high school-age youth. NLARA’s priorities are driven by community needs as identified by the comprehensive and ongoing needs assessment. The NLARA collaborates with community partners to:
- Promote positive youth development through well-organized sports programs
- Prepare coaches to be effective mentors
- Secure sustainable financial support to fund NLARA partners’ programs and the NLARA organization and initiatives.
- Centralize and coordinate the delivery of community-driven youth sports programming
- Provide metrics and data monitoring participation rates, character development, violence reduction, and educational attainment.
- Plan future athletic and recreational programming based on data gathered through ongoing needs assessment.