ESPN and Aspen Institute aim to put the fun back in children’s sports

For many kids, sports have become a chore rather than fun. Parents and coaches put tons of pressure on children to win, often to their detriment. Because of that pressure, fewer kids are playing sports and many are quitting early.

To combat this, non-profit Aspen Institute has teamed with ESPN and Arnold Worldwide to call attention to the problem with ‘Don’t Retire, Kid,’ which shows a young kid ‘retiring’ from sports.

Last year, only 38% of kids aged six to 12 played team sports on a regular basis, down from 45% in 2008, according to research from the Aspen Institute’s Project Play initiative. Instead of mitigating the problem, organized youth sports teams are actually contributing to it; from excessive injuries to burnout to discouragement and demoralization, the pressures and demands are actually forcing them out. And not to mention the lack of access for kids whose parents can’t afford league fees, uniforms and travel costs.

The ‘Don’t Retire, Kid’,public service announcement is designed to keep more kids in the game. The creative by Arnold underscores the overwhelming number of children who are “retiring” from sports prematurely, attributed to the pressures, stress and rising costs associated with playing sports, which detract kids from the joy and fun they should be experiencing from the game. The first PSA shows a child sitting down at a press conference announcing that he is retiring from all sports.

“The pressure it takes to play at my age, it’s just too much,” he says. He cites “endless advice from parents…coaches who left me on the bench when the game was on the line.” When he takes questions, a reporter asks who he thinks can fix the problems. He says “parents, leagues, coaches, everyone.”

The ad closes with a question: “If 62% of kids have given up on sports, what are we doing wrong?”

"To address this issue head-on, we teamed up with the Aspen Institute and ESPN to develop this creative in a way that compels parents and coaches to introspect and ask themselves: am I part of the problem?” says Icaro Doria, chief creative officer at Arnold.

The campaign also addresses the problem and possible solutions with athletes, in conversations with Kobe Bryant, Wayne Gretzky, Sue Bird, Mookie Betts.

“At ESPN we believe sports should be available to every child,” said Jimmy Pitaro, President of ESPN. “We want to shed light on this important issue so that kids can take advantage of the benefits of sports, from increased health to better outcomes in school. ESPN, together with our league and business partners, have committed to working together to address this issue.”

The Don’t Retire, Kid campaign was inspired by Project Play 2020, comprised of leading organizations that aim to grow national sport participation rates and related metrics among youth. The campaign is also backed by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, U.S. Tennis Association, and other members of Project Play 2020, a group of 20 leading organizations in sports, media, health, technology and retail who have come together to grow national sport participation rates.

“Parents are the game-changers in youth sports,” said Tom Farrey, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program. “To keep kids playing longer, we need to help parents ask the right questions of themselves, their child and their local sport providers.”

See the spots by clicking on the Creative Works box below.

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