SL Interview: Jessie Auritt and the Story of “Supergirl”

In January 2013, not long after director Jessie Auritt won plaudits for “The Birdman,” a short documentary film about an old-school music store in New York City, she began searching for her next project. After reading an article in the Jewish Daily Forward newspaper about a young powerlifter named Naomi Kutin, she knew that she’d found the subject of what would become her debut feature-length documentary film.

Nicknamed “Supergirl,” Naomi was already a celebrated phenom in the niche sport. At the age of 10, she squatted 214.9 pounds to set the world record for women in the 97-pound weight class. Meanwhile, her father and coach, Ed, delighted the powerlifting followers by posting videos of his daughter’s prowess on YouTube.

One facet differentiated Naomi from other elite powerlifters: her religious faith. She and her family are Modern Orthodox Jews and follow certain precepts. For instance, they dress modestly, follow strict dietary rules, and refrain from performing any activities on the Sabbath — including lifting weights or competing.

Over the next three years, as Auritt also worked as a freelance editor and video producer to pay the bills, she filmed Naomi and her family. Her aptly named film, “Supergirl,” chronicles Naomi’s coming of age. She was 11 when filming started; she was 14 and about to start high school when the film wrapped. In between, she shattered age-group records, suffered debilitating injuries, debated whether to continue with powerlifting, and celebrated her Bat Mitzvah.

Wrote Haaretz’s Gabe Friedman: “The result is a nuanced portrait of a deceptively typical teenager. While at school, around the house or with her autistic brother, Naomi is essentially a normal young Orthodox girl — albeit one who is practiced at acting affable on camera, as Auritt points out. While lifting, however, Naomi is determined, rabid, almost ominously fierce.”

SportsLetter recently spoke with Auritt from her home in Brooklyn, New York.

SportsLetter: What was it about Naomi that made you decide to make “Supergirl”?

Jessie Auritt: When I first read about her, I was just so fascinated by her story.  I was really interested in the intersection of her religion of Orthodox Judaism and the male-dominated sport of powerlifting. I knew that her Bat Mitzvah would be coming up, so I was interested in following her during that period of her life to see how those two disparate aspects of her life evolved as she got older.

SL: Was it difficult to get her family on board with the project?

JA: When I came across the article about Naomi in January 2013, I reached out to the family to meet and discuss the possibility of doing a film. They were pretty much on board from the beginning. Naomi had had a lot of press at that point. I think they were somewhat used to doing media pieces and having cameras around from various news shows and talk shows that she had been on, so they weren’t really strangers to the attention and the spotlight.

SL: Could you film everything or were there certain restrictions?

JA: There were, of course, some restrictions. Like, we couldn’t film on Shabbat — so Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, no cameras whatsoever. That was a non-negotiable thing with them, which we understood and respected.

We had great experiences filming at her school — she goes to an Orthodox Jewish school — and also at their synagogue. Obviously, we couldn’t film during any high holidays or during the Sabbath. But during other times we were welcomed into the synagogue.

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Later in the film, when Naomi was experiencing some medical issues, that was a bit of a touch-and-go situation in terms of getting access from the hospitals to film in there and also having Naomi and her family being comfortable with us in the room when they were hearing news about Naomi’s medical condition for the first time. So, we couldn’t film everything, but through a lot of open conversations, and just being transparent about our intentions with the film, we were able to gain the family’s trust and to film in some very sensitive moments.

SL: What did you know about powerlifting at that point?

JA: I grew up playing sports when I was younger. I was on the soccer team and the lacrosse team in high school, and we would lift weights as part of our training regimen. But that was nothing compared to what Naomi did.

One of the first things I learned is that powerlifting is different than Olympic weightlifting. Powerlifting is not an Olympic sport. People always ask me, “Is Naomi going to go to the Olympics?”And, I have to explain that powerlifting is a different kind of lifting, although there is now a campaign to get powerlifting into the Olympics. [Editor’s Note: The basic distinction between Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting are the different types of lifts.  Olympians compete in the snatch and the clean and jerk; powerlifters compete in the squat, the bench press and the deadlift.]

SL: Having spent three-plus years making the film, what do you know about powerlifting now?

JA: I learned from countless hours filming in the family’s basement gym, where they train, and watching Naomi’s father, Ed, coach her. I feel like now I could go to the gym and actually do these lifts on my own and know the proper form.

I had never been to a competition of that nature before. I had no idea what to expect. Most of the contests she goes to are not big glamorous events. They’re usually regional events held in hotel ballrooms or basement gyms.

Read more at LA84’s SportsLetter archives

It’s an interesting community. You’re basically competing against yourself, although there are competitions in the different weight classes, but it’s a really friendly and supportive environment. I found most of the people there cheer for each other. Everyone wants to do their own personal best.

Within that community everyone was very supportive of Naomi. I thought, going into it, we might see more people challenging her, especially some of the men, but for the most part they were excited to see a young girl embracing the sport and doing really well.

SL: Did you find that the two subcultures — powerlifting and Orthodox Judaism — were very different from one another?

JA: On their own, these two subcultures are really interesting and dynamic and not something that’s really seen in the mainstream media. The main intrigue for me — the entry point for the film — was the fact that the rules of these different subcultures contradict each other in some ways. People who practice Modern Orthodox Judaism typically have very traditional gender roles. For instance, when Naomi’s not competing, she wears conservative, modest clothes: skirts that cover her knees, long sleeve shirts. That’s the mandatory dress code.

So, she was part of that subculture while at the same time competing in this sport, powerlifting, where the first images that come to mind are big men with bulging muscles. I mean, there are women powerlifter, but there aren’t that many — and, especially, there aren’t many young girls like Naomi doing it.  For powerlifting, she has to compete in a wrestling singlet, which shows the shape of her body. Her arms, elbows and knees are exposed.

I was curious to understand how she could co-exist in these two worlds, and what that looked like for her on a day-to-day basis, while she is also figuring out who she is at this tender age entering adolescence.

SL: How do you think Naomi handled this?

JA: When Naomi talks about this in interviews, she’ll talk about how they are very separate parts of her life. I think the idea of having this sort of powerlifting alter ego – “Supergirl” — makes it easier for her to separate the different aspects of her life.

But it’s interesting because they’re always ever-present. She’s never really not Naomi the young Jewish girl when she’s powerlifting, and she’s never not Naomi the “Supergirl” powerlifter when she’s at school with her friends. She goes between the two personalities.

SL: Obviously, Naomi wouldn’t have gotten involved in powerlifting without the influence of her father, Ed, who himself is a competitive lifter. What was the relationship like between the two of them?

JA: Automatically when people learn that Ed’s been a longtime powerlifter, he gets accused of living his dream through his kids. Yes, it’s true that Naomi started this because she saw her dad doing it and she wanted to spend time with her dad. And then her brother started because his sister was doing it and she was getting all this attention and he wanted to be part of that whole thing.

I think that’s a natural thing. You see what your parents are doing and you want to aspire to that and do that. My sister and I played softball when we were kids because my dad was in rec league. We started playing with my dad in the backyard, and we played catcher on my dad’s team with all these old lawyers in suburban Philadelphia. Then we started playing softball on our own. I think it’s natural to want to follow in your parents’ footsteps.

Powerlifting is a little bit of an unusual activity for kids, but it’s just the same as anything else. Kids see their environment around them and see what their parents are doing and that’s what they’re influenced by. I think that once Naomi showed promise and then excelled in this sport, her parents embraced that and were excited that she was accomplishing these things. They started sharing videos of her online because they were so proud of her that they wanted to share it with their friends and family. That took off on a much greater level because it was such an anomaly for her to be doing that.

I’m not a parent personally, but I think that any parent takes pride in what their kids do and want them to do the best they possibly can. Naomi just so happened to be doing something that’s not very conventional or seen that much.

SL: Posting those videos of Naomi on YouTube sort of backfired, as you show in the film, when she reads the negative comments directed at her and her parents. Why did you decide to include that in the film?

JA: Personally, when I saw those comments I was pretty shocked and appalled that people would write those things about a young girl. She has been in the media and in the public eye pretty much since she started the sport at the age of 8, and then when she started breaking records at age 9 and 10. So, that wasn’t the first time she had seen those kinds of comments. Before we even started the documentary she had been exposed to some criticism, and her parents had talked to her a lot about that stuff.

I wanted to show that in the film because cyber-bullying and that sort of negativity — that’s out there and it’s something a lot of people are dealing with. I thought it was important to show this. It’s interesting because, at a much younger age, Naomi has been able to process that better than most people her age or even adults. She is not succumbing to what other people think of her and all the negativity and the societal stereotyping. She shows that she has the strength to overcome that, which I think is inspiring and empowering to other young girls or boys who might be experiencing a similar thing.

I didn’t have to deal with social media and cyber-bullying when I was growing up. That’s something I wanted to include for that reason: to explore what it is like for someone who, for most of their conscious life, has been in this world of social media, because I think it is changing the way that kids grow up and how they interact with other people. I think that’s happening with kids around the world — but especially with someone who’s a child athlete or prodigy who is in the spotlight it’s even more intensified.  n that really vulnerable stage where you’re trying to figure out your own self, you’re also growing up in the public spotlight and having that sort of criticism and stereotyping put on you, whether you ask for it or not.

SL: The film also shows Naomi being waylaid by injuries.  Was that difficult to navigate as a filmmaker?

JA: It was something that we never saw coming. Doing a film that’s of a vérité nature, you’re following someone’s life as it develops. There’s no way to really predict or plan what’s going to happen. At first we didn’t know if it was going to be in the film. Then, when her health issues started to become a bigger part of her life and they were going to doctors pretty regularly, we said, “Okay this is something we do need to include and follow because it’s part of Naomi’s story and part of what she’s dealing with.”

It’s an interesting line of morality and ethics. As a human being, watching a young person go through something like that is hard. You’re empathetic. You don’t want to see them in pain and you want everything to be fine. At that point I’d grown pretty close to Naomi and her family.  But it is interesting as a filmmaker, when something horrific or dramatic happens, that makes your story more exciting, if you will. We didn’t really know what that was going to look like until afterwards, when everything with her health issues was settled.

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I always try to put my human instincts first. That’s how I work and am able to direct these kinds of films. I connect and relate with people on a human level before I’m in my director mode because people will never open up and trust you if you’re just in director mode. It was a delicate thing that we needed to discuss with Naomi and her parents and make sure that we were all on the same page. Understandably there was some hesitancy, but we talked about how, in a documentary film, you have to show the good, the bad, and the ugly because that’s life. That’s what people are going to relate to. You can’t just show that everything is peachy keen all the time because that’s not what happens in life.

SL: What was it like to watch her parents dealing with Naomi’s injuries?

JA: When people watch the film they have different reactions to how they view the parents. I think that’s one thing that’s great — that the film does open up this discussion that is really relevant to parenting and especially parenting of kids who are competing at a serious level in a sport or activity.

I tried to stay as objective as possible as a filmmaker. I think that, after spending a lot of time with Naomi and her family, her parents absolutely do want what is best for her and they try to do that by whatever means possible. They’re very conscious. They’ve received criticism, both before the film and after the film was released. It’s something that they’re aware of, that not everyone sees eye to eye with them. It’s interesting because it’s a fine balance. They do what works for them and their family. I don’t necessarily agree or disagree, but I think they are looking out for their children’s best interests. They’re not doing it for themselves, even though they’ve been accused of that.

The thing with powerlifting is, and we spoke to other powerlifters about this, there is potential for injury obviously. But that’s the same as with most sports. There’s children playing football and getting concussions. I personally rode horses when I was growing up and I fell off a lot of times. Luckily, I never had a serious injury.

SL: How did the nickname “Supergirl” come about?

JA: “Supergirl” was this nickname that her parents gave her. It was tied to her being able to excel at the sport and break world records. People started calling her that because of her videos online and the press that she had gotten.

SL: How did the meaning of “Supergirl” change for Naomi during the course of the film?

JA: I think initially the idea of being “Supergirl” was tied to breaking these world records and her parents realizing that she had this amazing ability, like a superhero. I don’t think she really thought much more about the implications or the meaning of that. It wasn’t anything more than this name that people called her.

But as she got older over the course of filming, she definitely had a lot more self-awareness and understanding about who she is and her place in the world and what she as a young Orthodox Jewish female powerlifter means to the rest of the world. I think she was able to embrace her identity as “Supergirl” more for herself and claim that for herself. She realized that “Supergirl” is not about the world records, it’s about doing the best you can for yourself. She was able to see it as this symbol of strength and as a way to inspire other people.

SL: Did you ever get the feeling that Naomi didn’t enjoy powerlifting, that she was doing it to please other people?

JA: When she started the sport, it was something she just did and was good at, and I don’t think that she thought much more beyond that. In the course of filming, we didn’t know what would happen. We could see it going either way: rejecting that and rebelling against everything that she had been brought up with or embracing it. She definitely chose to embrace it.

SL: How did Naomi change over the course of being filmed?

JA: I experienced it first hand, but when you see it in the course of the film, she really does change and develop and grow into this young woman version of herself. Along with the physical changes, she definitely grew and matured and came into this better understanding of herself. That was really cool to see.

SL: What is Naomi doing these days?

JA: She’s 15 now. She’s a sophomore in high school. She continues to powerlift and is still posting under the name “Supergirl” on her social media channels. She’s still one of the youngest people competing. She has moved up a couple weight classes, and the competition now is a lot higher. You can imagine: there are not that many women under 97 pounds competing. She’s still doing amazing and breaking local records and breaking records in her age group, but the world records are much, much harder to break now. She’s still committed to the sport and is doing it because she loves it.

SL: Did the issue of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs come up?

JA: People have asked about that. If you look at her, she’s this small, slight unassuming girl. Most people without seeing her assume she’s big and ripped. But she’s not.

In the contests when she’s broken the world record, by the rules she has had to be drug-tested. She and her family think it’s hilarious because they’re not doing any sort of performance enhancing drugs. They’ve also been asked about what kind of supplements she takes or if she’s being sponsored by a supplement company. But most of the products are not kosher, so she can’t even take them.

SL: There haven’t been many documentaries that examine weightlifting and powerlifting, beyond “Pumping Iron” and “Pumping Iron II,” which are both more about bodybuilding than weightlifting. Were there any films on the subject that you ran across?

JA: Obviously, I was aware of “Pumping Iron,” but I didn’t know of any documentaries about powerlifting when I started the film. That’s one thing that I think is unique and special about the film: it’s showing the audience something that they’ve never seen before.

There’s a documentary called “Strong” that is about an Olympic weightlifter who is a woman. She’s the opposite of Naomi in that she’s very large and deals with body image issues. That was the closest women weightlifter documentary that I came across. [Editor’s Note: “Strong,” directed by Julie Wyman in 2012, is about Cheryl Haworth, who won a bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.]

SL: As you well know, there’ve been quite a few recent documentaries that have focused on youth sports. Were there any that influenced you as you made “Supergirl”?

JA: As we went along in filming, I was trying to research as many documentaries that were similar in subject or theme to the film. I did watch a lot of documentaries about children competing in different sports as well as other female-driven coming of age stories. Those sorts of things. There weren’t any individual films that I modeled the film after. I think it’s really important to try to do something different and unique. But, absolutely I watched Marshall Curry’s “Racing Dreams” and Josh Greenbaum’s “The Short Game,” about the child golfers.

A lot of those competition films follow multiple characters, so that was one thing that was very different about our film. Like “Spellbound,” a film I love [about the national spelling bee competition], it follows many characters. And, a lot of documentary films that deal with sports have a typical arc that builds to a competition or championship.

We set out with that typical competition arc in mind, but then when Naomi’s health issues happened we had to re-evaluate what the film was about and what the arc was going to be. She was competing in powerlifting competitions pretty often, and there’s a big competition that we feature in the film, but the film wasn’t so much about that competition. It’s more about all the other things leading up to it and the aftermath of that.

So, it’s much more nuanced than a typical competition film. In a way, the film is a combination between those children and competition documentary films and then something like “Boyhood” [a feature film directed by Richard Linklater], which is a nuanced film about growing up and figuring out your identity and place in the world.

SL: What most surprised you during the making of the film?

JA: I went into it thinking that there was going to be more controversy between her religion and the sport. I was surprised that her congregation and the religious community that she’s part of were so accepting of her and her family doing this sport. I think that’s great because a lot of people think of things in isolated small boxes — very black and white — but it was surprising to me in a good way to see that, within this pretty strict religious community, that there was acceptance of this young girl doing something that was not typically done.

SL: What’s been the reaction to the film within the Jewish community?

JA: Most of the reaction from the Jewish side has been positive and supportive. We haven’t shown the film for more conservative, observant Orthodox Jewish communities — Hasidic Jews, for instance — because they probably would not be interested in this film. But within the Modern Orthodox Jewish community, it’s been received very well. While there’s been some criticism of things like parenting or whether or not she should be doing the sport, it hasn’t been specifically about her religion.

SL: “Supergirl” premiered at the Hamptons International Film Festival in October and has already played at DOC NYC and the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival. What’s next for the film?

JA: The film is going to continue to be on the festival circuit. The next festival will be at Slamdance in Park City, Utah in January. We’re excited to be there. We have a few other festivals we’re waiting to confirm the dates on around the country. And, then hopefully we’ll get to go on the international film festival circuit.

We’re currently in conversation with some distributors. We haven’t nailed that down, but we hope to sell the film to a distributor and have a television broadcast release sometime in the next year. After that it would be On-Demand, streaming online on various platforms, whether it’s iTunes, Netflix, Amazon, that sort of thing. We’re hoping that, after the film’s on the festival circuit, it will have a wider release in the U.S. and internationally. [Editor’s Note: The film was picked up by Filmrise on the eve of its Slamdance debut]

Caylin Moore: From South LA Baller to Rhodes Scholar

“The race is not one for the swift, but he who endures until the end.”

On an afternoon like any other at Holly Park in South Los Angeles, it was these words that were imparted from an old man to a boy entering his second year of playing football. The man’s identity will forever be a mystery, but that boy was Caylin Moore. He’s been enduring, and achieving, ever since.

At 6:30am on the morning of Sunday, November 20, Keith Johnson began screaming as he drove down the 110 Freeway in Los Angeles. Johnson, the executive director of Falcons Youth and Family Services, a nonprofit that provides free or low-cost football programs to at-risk children in South LA, has received one-too-many somber phone calls about the tragic fate of a former player. But this was different. This news came on the radio, and it was that Moore had been named a 2017 Rhodes Scholar.

For Moore, a senior safety on the Texas Christian University football team, the achievement is momentous. Life-altering really, as Moore will head to Oxford University in England for the next two years to study public policy. For Moore, it’s not just an opportunity to learn among the world’s best and brightest, but the next step in paying it forward to the Southern California community he calls home. “When you take the elevator to the top, you make sure you press the No. 1 button to send it back down,” Moore said. His words are anything but hollow; few know the struggle on the proverbial ground floor more than the soft-spoken 22-year-old.

Moore grew up encountering domestic abuse. When he was 6 years old, his mother, facing tireless verbal abuse and constant threats of violence from her husband and Moore’s father, was forced to move he and his two siblings out of their five-bedroom home in the eastern Southern California suburb of Moreno Valley and to the South LA city of Carson.

From there, Moore and his family of four still lived in fear from his father, who would stalk and intimidate the family long following their physical and legal separation. That chapter only came to an end when Moore’s father killed his live-in girlfriend in 2009. Louis Moore is currently serving life in prison.

In Carson, Moore grew up in a neighborhood where gang violence, drugs and poverty were often simply a part of everyday life. Every day became a constant reminder of the nearly impossible path out. “The trials and tribulations we went through were insurmountable,” said Moore’s mother, Calynn (CJ) Taylor-Moore. “Any one of these events would have killed a lesser person.”

Center: Caylin Moore L-R: Mi-Calynn Moore, Calynn (CJ) Taylor-Moore, Chase Moore
Center: Caylin Moore
L-R: Mi-Calynn Moore, Calynn (CJ) Taylor-Moore, Chase Moore (Courtesy of the Moore family)

In 2004, another event turned Moore’s life on its axis. This was when Taylor-Moore brought Caylin and her younger son Chase to the park to sign them up for football with Falcons Youth and Family Services, an organization that has been a grantee recipient of the LA84 Foundation.

“He was a skinny little kid,” said Johnson, the co-founder of Falcons. “Very quiet. Very reserved. But man, was he determined.”

From Day One, the program fueled Moore’s relentless drive to succeed. His first year was also the team’s first participating in the Snoop Youth Football League, run by the famous rapper and actor. Moore not only played two years above his grade level with a group that hadn’t played together before, but he also happened to be the team’s quarterback. “I said ‘his coach has lost his mind. Caylin has lost his mind. His mother has lost her mind,’” Johnson recalled about the first year. “They got beat badly, but he learned so much. By the end of the year, my nickname for him was ‘Big Heart.’”

At the same time he flourished on the field, Moore still faced the problem so many youth in low-income communities must grapple with: life without a father. While Falcons provided almost all of its participants with jerseys, cleats, equipment, post-game meals and other items they would otherwise be unable to afford, the true value was in the life lessons Johnson and his staff taught through sport.

Moore in his early years with Falcons Youth and Family Services. (Courtesy of the Moore family)
Moore in his early years with Falcons Youth and Family Services. (Courtesy of the Moore family)

Moore soon became involved in Falcons’ MIT (Men in Training) program. Falcons staff would take the football players to Dodgers games, the beach and on other activities to show the youth a world outside the insulated streets of South LA and give them goals to achieve through academic success.

“It was such a great environment to be around positive male role models. Seeing how they interacted with others and conducted their lives was quite impactful for my masculinity and manhood,” Moore said, recalling his early Falcons experiences.  “It is extremely difficult in the inner city for a single mother to take a young boy from boyhood to manhood,” added Taylor-Moore. “That’s where the Falcons came in. They had men of honor that mentored my sons.”

For the Moore family, Falcons soon become a family affair. Chase followed his brother onto the football field. Moore’s sister, Mi-Calynn, became a cheerleader for the youth football teams. Ms. Taylor-Moore started a summer conditioning camp for the teams in order to keep the kids active and safe during the months they were out of school, and later became the first female coach in the history of the Snoop League.

Chase (left) and Caylin Moore.
Chase (left) and Caylin Moore inside Amon G. Carter Stadium (Courtesy of the Moore family)

After his time playing for Falcons, Caylin attended Verbum Dei High School as his football star continued to shine. As a high-schooler, Moore balanced quarterbacking the Verbum Dei Eagles and returning the Falcons to serve as the offensive coordinator for his mother’s football squad at Jackie Tatum Park. Even as a teenager, Moore not only prepared himself for life through the power of sport, but took the lessons he learned to give back to his community. “Being involved in sports expands and enriches your life,” Taylor-Moore said. “You serve a purpose. You keep burning the torch.”

After graduation came a full scholarship to play football at Marist College, and in 2015 Moore transferred to TCU for a chance at playing college football on the highest level. In the classroom, he earned a scholarship in 2014 to attend the Fulbright Summer Institute in England before being named a 2017 Rhodes Scholar in November, with Johnson writing letters of recommendation for both awards.

READ MORE: LA84 Announces Youth Ambassadors Program

With the Falcons, Moore not only gives back with his time, but continues to make an impact through his story. “Pain does one of two things: It paralyzes you or it empowers you,” Johnson said about Moore’s path. “Caylin’s story is one we continue to tell to kids from hard, abusive backgrounds. If you want to give up, you just can’t give up. This is not the end-all for Caylin; this is just another step in his journey.”

As the reality of moving across the pond for the next two years sets in, Moore can now reflect on how youth sports has changed not only his, but the lives of hundreds of teammates and classmates he’s met along his journey. “I wish that programs like LA84 had even more funds and people working with them to show them where their funds can be allocated to be the most effective,” he said. “I think it’s so important, especially in communities where I come from where people don’t always have those opportunities. Youth sports are invaluable. Life-changing, actually.”

With a father in prison for life, a mother being a victim of domestic abuse, and a daily environment filled with drugs, gangs and crime, Caylin Moore was almost set up to become a statistic. Yet, sports and the support it brought helped flip the narrative. “In an environment where we had gangs and crime and poverty all around us, we had a diamond in the rough at that park during the hours of six to eight o’clock during football practice,” he said.

Twelve years after a mother looking for a healthy place for her children showed up at Holly Park, the next youth sports difference-maker is well on his way to building lives ready through sport for the thousands of future Caylin Moores in Los Angeles and beyond. “Be unrealistic,” he says. “In your expectations of yourself.”

Learn more about Falcons Youth and Family Services here

LA84 Summit Panel Recap: The Impact of the Olympics on Youth Sports

The Summer Olympic Games have not been in the United States for 20 years, but the LA 2024 Olympic Bid Committee is attempting to reset that streak. The bid is currently competing against two European cities, Budapest and Paris. At the 2016 LA84 Summit, two senior bid committee leaders discussed the bid as well as its potential impact on the youth sports environment in Southern California and the United States at large. See the full video of the panel below.

The Impact of the Olympics on Youth Sports: LA84 + LA24 = Legacy2 Panelists

Janet EvansOlympian & Vice Chair & Director of Athlete Relations, LA 2024 Bid Committee

Casey WassermanChairman, LA 2024 Bid Committee, Chairman & CEO, Wasserman Media Group

Interviewer: Alan Abrahamson, Lecturer, Journalism, USC Annenberg

Los Angeles as the Olympic City

For the panel, a major selling point of LA 2024 is how it focused on embracing the Olympic ideals, values and history. The bid’s logo is an angel, reflecting not only that each Olympic medal has an angel figure that they believe represents athleticism and aspiration, but that Los Angeles is nicknamed “The City of Angels.”

“The LA84 Foundation is the greatest living legacy of the Olympic Games,” said Wasserman. “The people in LA are not afraid, but actually embrace the idea of hosting another Olympic Games,” he added, noting that the cost of hosting a Games is often a deterrent for bid cities.

PANEL RECAP: Striving for Excellence: Stories from the Rio Olympics + How They Began

Finally, the panel noted how the volunteerism Los Angeles showed in the 1984 Games lives on and will be a major boon to the 2024 bid. “There is incredible heartbeat and drumbeat of volunteers who were connected 32 years ago,” Wasserman said. “We think 2024 can do that again on a whole other level.”

From One Generation to the Next

For the pair, a huge factor for LA 2024 is its low projected costs and how that will affect its overall impact. With the money Los Angeles will save by not having to build a multiple of venues and set up Olympic infrastructure, due to already existing stadiums, more of the budget of a potential Games will go toward supporting youth engagement in the Games and promoting the Olympic ideals across the region. “LA84 has guided LA 2024 on youth sports by being the organization that has an impact on the lives of many young people in Southern California,” Evans said.

For high-schoolers, the bid is working with the Ready. Set. Gold! program, headed by four-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer John Naber to match Olympians and Paralympians with LAUSD schools. The program aims to promote the values of sport, fitness and the Olympic Games.

DOWNLOAD: LA84 Foundation Youth Sports Survey: Los Angeles County, 2016

Additionally, LA 2024 is also valuing social media as a way to engage young fans. “We want members who all engaged us on the social media networks to understand what we’re doing to impart change within our own society on the athletic side,” mentioned Evans.

Get Technical

A third selling point to Wasserman and Evans was how Los Angeles is on the cutting edge of technology and development as a worldwide city. “Los Angeles is a new, modern city that’s about what’s next,” Wasserman said. “We’ve got a foundation of support and we’ve got a foundation of facilities that allow us to spend our time not worrying about building buildings and delivery, but a about executing and the experience, and our legacy, we believe in 2024 starts the day we win the bid.”

See more from the Summit and the latest from LA84 here

LA84 Summit Panel Recap: The Power of Girls Who Play

Getting girls in the game is an issue paramount in a sporting world that does not always treat female athletes in the same manner as it does males. In this panel at the LA84 Summit, four advocates for ensuring girls’ opportunities in youth sports addressed not only where the gender disparity needs to be fixed, but also opened up suggestions and discussed strategies to tackle those issues and work to end inequalities for young female athletes. The conversation is not just about playing in sports, but staying in sports.

Problems & Solutions

  • The LA84 youth sports participation survey reveals that girls play sports at a significantly lower rate than boys. This is consistent with national data.
  • LA84 funded research by UCLA Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture on how to increase young Latinas sports participation.
  • Based on that research, LA84 funded a successful recruitment program that increased Latina enrollment in seven sports clubs in low-income neighborhoods by 18 percent.
  • LA84-funded Beyond the Bell program has shown a 163% increase in girls participation since 2008-09.

The Power of Girls Who Play Panelists

  • Marlene BjornsrudDirector of Strategic Relationships, Alliance of Women Coaches
  • Laura GentileVice President, espnW
  • Nicole LaVoiTucker Center For Research on Girls & Women in Sport, University of Minnesota
  • Blanca Gonzalez, Vice President/General Manager West Territory, Nike

Moderator: Lolita Lopez, NBC4 Reporter

Getting Girls in the Game

The primary topic addressed was how to ensure girls not only become more involved in sports, but also to maintain that participation. For LaVoi, data is crucial to track changes since it often points to a variety of reasons for this phenomenon: injury, burn-out, social issues, personal issues.

PANEL RECAP: Voices from the Field: Today’s Athletes

Meanwhile, Bjornsrud spoke on how girls in underserved communities often don’t see enough athletes who look like them. “The Latina athlete is invisible to little girls and Latino families, and therefore most sports-support money goes to boys’ sports,” she said. For her, the mantra of ‘If I can see her, I can be here’ needs to ring true more often. Gonzalez added another angle to the discussion, valuing on how a greater emphasis needs to be placed on educating parents of the power of sports for girls. “Once parents know the value, they will encourage kids to participate,” Gonzalez said.

Visibility at the Top

For Gentile, a big mission is to change the way women’s sports is covered. “The amount of coverage is less important than how women were presented,” she said. “Women athletes are often framed as someone’s wife or partner, or the product of great male coaching. We need to treat women athletes as athletes. They swear; women sweat. Show that. Women athletes used to have to be great and gorgeous, but we are moving away from that, which is important.”

(L-R): LaVoi, Bjornsrud, Gentile and Gonzalez
(L-R): LaVoi, Bjornsrud, Gentile and Gonzalez

Gentile also observed how social media allows female athletes to create their own brand and tell their own stories. While this also allows for messages of hate, the benefits of social media are progressive towards women athletes gaining deserved recognition.

With that in mind, LaVoi added in that it’s important to note that sports should not be an avenue for jealousy and feeling down when comparing one’s body to a female role model’s:

“It’s more important what your body can do, not just what it looks like.”

Women as Leaders

For Gonzalez, a big part of women rising both in athletics and in the professional field of sports is networking. She found talking with women also in the sports corporate world was invaluable not only from a social standpoint, but also in hearing experiences similar to hers and how to approach them. “There’s power in numbers and sharing learning,” added Gentile.

PANEL RECAP: Playing Smart: Solutions to the Youth Sports Dropout Problem

Additionally, Bjornsrud added that female athletes need to be aware of gender bias in order to push back against it. LaVoi added that male allies also need to step up to advance women in sports, while Lopez noted “how we speak to and about young ladies goes a long way to helping girls get into and stay involved in sports.”

“Every day, take the time to ask a young girl if she’s ever thought about a career in sports,” said LaVoi as a final call to action. “Get them thinking about it.”

See more from the Summit and the latest from LA84 here

LA84 Summit Panel Recap: Maximizing Impact through Collaboration

Partnerships. It’s a buzz word in the field of youth sports and in business on the whole, but how exactly do partnerships work? And how should youth sports-minded organizations best partner in order to maximize their positive impact on young athletes and their communities? At the LA84 Summit, four executives of companies who partner on a large scale to create opportunities for underserved youth in sports addressed the best ways to properly partner and how partnering together isn’t always as linear as simple as it might seem. See the full video of the panel below.

Elevating the Field: Maximizing Impact through Collaboration Panelists

Kelly CheesemanCOO, AEG Sports

Sherrie Deans, Executive Director, National Basketball Players Association Foundation

Caitlin MorrisNorth America Executive Director, Global Community Impact, Nike

Benita Fitzgerald MosleyChief Executive Officer, Laureus Sport for Good Foundation; Olympian, Track & Field

Moderator:  Tom Penn, President & Owner, Los Angeles Football Club

One Size Does Not Fit All

While two organizations might seem like perfect fits to partner on the surface, they need to be together at their core mission for positive change to be truly maximized. “You’re not in every partnership for the same reasons,” Morris said. “Nike is always looking at how we’re going to move the needle on how that particular program works.”

For example, if both partners are looking to host events at their own sites, or each are simply looking to donate funds to a program, then the partnership might not be a perfect fit. It doesn’t need to be a perfect fit, but a meshing of purposes and desired outcomes helps put change into action. “We wanted to give money to get kids into street hockey and ball hockey,” Cheeseman said about some of the Los Angeles Kings’ youth programs. “But it wouldn’t have worked without collaboration with the YMCA, where we knew our money was going to be in great hands since they had the coaches, resources and facilities that we could work together with to develop.”

PANEL RECAP: Equity in Play: Safety, Space & Money

“You don’t always have to lead. Sometimes it’s about figuring out how you partner and who has the right skill sets for which role,” added Fitzgerald-Mosley.

Equal Seating at the Table

It might seem obvious, but the panelists emphasized how partners always need to go out of their way to ensure there is trust and equality among all organizations involved. “The group of organizations and leaders you bring together and work with should have the freedom to express their own ideas. You have to create an environment not only where this takes place, but is expected of everybody,” Fitzgerald Mosley said. For Deans? “Partnership is like marriage; if there’s imbalance, it’s never going to work.”

(L-R): Penn, Deans, Fitzgerald-Mosley, LA84 President & CEO Renata Simril, Morris and Cheeseman
(L-R): Penn, Deans, Fitzgerald Mosley, LA84 President & CEO Renata Simril, Morris and Cheeseman

This also applies to the communities themselves. Fitzgerald Mosley’s Model City Initiative with Laureus has made huge impacts just six months in, in Atlanta. A big reason for this? Working with Families First, a 125-year-old local social service organization that knows the ins and outs of the local neighborhoods and governments.

The same went for Cheeseman and AEG’s partnership with the Discovery Cube Los Angeles at Hansen Dam, where they contributed to the Science Center with exhibits involving the scientific and mathematic elements of hockey. “We wanted to make difference around sport, but also around education, so that one [partnership] made a lot of sense,” Cheeseman said.

Be Intentional

At the end of the day, every partner needs to direct with their goal for working together. “It’s not always a partnership they want,” said Deans on some organizations who have approached her and the NBA Players Association. “It’s a hijacking. Both groups need to bring their value, their treasure, to the table. We have to be honest with the end goal that we really, truly want to happen.”

PANEL RECAP: Keynote Address from Renata Simril

Partnerships in sports are like a puzzle, the panelists seemed to say, where there’s not the perfect fit, but one can tell almost immediately if there’s not a viable fit. It’s a challenge, but the gap between wanting to do good and actually making that positive impact has to be filled. “We have to be intentional about the business of supporting women in sports,” Morris said. “We have to stay on top of the ball.”

See more from the Summit and the latest from LA84 here

LA84 Summit Panel Recap: Stories from the Rio Olympics + How They Began

Olympians and Paralympians are at the pinnacle of their sports, and they didn’t reach such heights by accident. At the 2016 LA84 Summit on October 27, 2016, four competitors from the 2016 Rio Games gave us an insight into their Olympic journeys, what inspired them to pursue their sport, and imparted wisdom and advice applicable across not only sport, but life. See the full video of the panel below. 

Striving for Excellence: Stories from the Rio Olympics + How They Began Panelists

Lex Gillette, 2016 Paralympian, Track & Field

Steven Lopez, Five-time Olympian, three-time medalist, Taekwondo

Ibtihaj Muhammad2016 Olympian, Fencing

Barbara Nwaba, 2016 Olympian, Track & Field

Interviewer: Julie FoudyFounder, Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy, Television Analyst and Reporter for ABC/ESPN

Finding an Olympic Niche

Not every Olympic journey starts under the age of 10. For Nwaba and Muhammad, it took them well into their teens to discover the sport that has since taken them to the realm of the athletic elite. Both maintained how important it was not only for them to find their sport, but to test out a wide variety to know the sport they chose was truly the one for them.

Nwaba began her athletic career through LA’s Best, an LA84 grantee. “I started doing track and field programs for them [LA’s Best], but I was also exposed to volleyball, softball and soccer,” said Nwaba. That variety helped set the tone for the rest of my athletic career.

PANEL RECAP: The Impact of the Olympics on Youth Sports: LA84 + LA 2024 = Legacy Squared

For Muhammad, growing up as a Muslim-American donning a hijab sometimes limited the sports she was comfortable pursuing. Her mother saw fencing at a local high school when Muhammad was 12 and how the sport covered up most of one’s figure and was amenable to a hijab-wearing athlete. She wanted her daughter to try the sport once she started high school, and Muhammad’s level of skill really accelerated once she joined the Peter Westbrook Foundation at age 17.

“At first we literally had no idea what we were watching in fencing, but now I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without a nonprofit,” Muhammad said.

Playing it Forward

As they discussed their careers and accolades, the four athletes’ passion for using their Olympic notoriety to inspire current and future athletes alike shone brighter than their Olympic medals.

“Saying I believe in you,” Lopez said on the one phrase he believes has a transcendent effect on an aspiring athlete. “It’s very easy and very simple, but to touch someone and let them know that they believe in you, it’s one of the greatest things.” Gillette added on to that notion: “You want to have someone that shows that they believe in you. My high school teacher believing in me gave me that internal drive and tenacity, and I started to actually see where I wanted to go and who I wanted to become. When you say ‘I believe you’ and put actions behind it, it really gives kids life.”

Nwaba knows first-hand the impact of a coach’s unrequited belief. During her sophomore year running at UC Santa Barbara, her coach encouraged her to try the heptathlon in one meet, despite her never having participate in it. The rest is history. “I encourage them to try everything,” added Nwaba, who now coaches track & field herself. “Say yes to everything. Just give it a try.”

Muhammad (left) and Nwaba (right)
Muhammad (left) and Nwaba

For Muhammad, her Olympic stature as the first Muslim-American to earn an Olympic medal wearing a hijab empowers her to inspire and motivate girls whose shoes she was in not too long ago. “Having girls see Muslim women involved in sports and things that are culturally out of the box for them kind of changes their orientation and how they view themselves,” she said.

PANEL RECAP: The Power of Girls Who Play

Don’t Take No for an Answer

Gillette wasn’t always one of the world’s premier Paralympic long jumpers. When he became blind as a child in North Carolina, at first he felt impaired by his disability. But as soon as he entered high school and met his first coach, it changed. Rather than holding himself out of recess, he dived right in. “As a freshman, we had to do a fitness test. One of the events was the standing long jump. I was top three in my school, and my teacher told me about the Paralympics and being able to represent my country and win medals and break records. That became my goal and my vision. I really locked in.”

Muhammad’s Olympic path also truly kicked into gear thanks to an external doubting of her ability. After not qualifying for the 2012 Games in London, Muhammad was with a friend when a little girl came up to her and said “Oh my gosh, are you the Olympic fencer?”

“Before I could say anything, My friend said to the little girl ‘she’s not an Olympian.’ That’s the first time I can remember that I made this conscious decision that I would try to make an Olympic team. From that moment for four years, I dedicated my life. I felt like I had to make the Olympic team for that little girl and my younger self. For all those moments people told me I couldn’t do things because I was a girl, because I was Muslim, because black people didn’t fence.”

The common thread among the athletes was not only gathering together to help play it forward for the young athletes of today, but also to show that Olympic dreams realize themselves in unique, but always-powerful ways. In the words of Muhammad: “Things that are meant for you will never miss you.”

See more from the Summit and the latest from LA84 here

LA84 Summit Panel Recap: Equity in Play

Children in youth sports deserve the right to play and a place to do it, but the gap between hope and action is one that too often goes unfilled. At one of the 2016 LA84 Summit breakout sessions, four panelists addressed the ongoing issues, potential solutions, and advice for collaboration when it comes to giving all kids the opportunity to benefit through sport.

Problems & Solutions

  • LA84 survey of youth sports participation in LA County reports that kids from lowest-income households play the least.
  • Compared to parks nationally, LA County parks provide relatively few sports spaces.
  • LA84 has invested $225 million in under-resourced communities, reaching 3 million youth across eight counties.
  • LA84 has invested $20 million in sports facility construction and improvement, including public park space.
  • LA84 pioneered research and low-cost solutions to knee injuries in youth sports.

Equity in Play: Safety, Space & Money Panelists

  • Dr. Keith Feder, Co-founder, Team to Win, Director, West Coast Sports Medicine Foundation
  • Ed Foster-Simeon, President & CEO, U.S. Soccer Foundation
  • Keith Johnson, Executive Director, Falcons Youth and Family Services
  • Brenda Villa, Founder, Project 2020, Coach, Olympian, Water Polo

Moderator: Tony Brown, Executive Director, Heart of Los Angeles

To Share is Human

While the four panelists’ viewpoints ranged from topic to topic, their thoughts aligned when it came to a major obstacle facing youth sports. “We need to learn how to share,” Villa said, referring in this case to the division between club and recreational sports and the pool facilities each side uses. “It should be more about getting more kids swimming and in the pool than growing a specific program. The more kids I get in, the more who will be water-safe.’

PANEL RECAP: Playing Smart: Solutions to the Youth Sports Dropout Problem

For Johnson, sharing means collaboration between youth sports teams and leagues and the organizations who run everything else needed for sport to be played. “We need to work with the city to make renting fields more affordable, while getting help to pay the cost for medics and referees that these families often can’t pay,” he said.

Availability is Half the Battle

“If it’s more than a 10-minute walk away, it is too far,” Foster-Simeon said about the issue of safety and space in youth sports. “Not every neighborhood has moms with minivans who can take kids any place.” LA84’s new survey of youth sports participation in Los Angeles County shows that LA has only four soccer fields per 100,000 residents, less than 25 percent of the national average.

L-R: Feder, Foster-Simeon and Johnson.
L-R: Feder, Foster-Simeon and Johnson.

Building new fields and complexes can be difficult for many reasons, so a major focus also needs to be on rebuilding facilities in place that might have been worn down over the years. “It’s too easy for coaches and mentors to identify pools that will attract athletes, but we need to make something grow organically in the community,” Villa added.

PANEL RECAP: Elevating the Field: Maximizing Impact through Collaboration 

For Johnson, collaboration is also needed across sports. While divvying up new baseball and soccer fields can boost participation in those sports, this dividing can fence off the separate fields and eliminate football fields in the process. “The sports do not matter,” Foster-Simeon said, echoing Johnson’s plea for working together. “If we get out of our silos, we’ll make a bigger difference.”

Focus on Sports’ Impact Beyond the Field

While there’s no doubt sports changes lives beyond the field of play, the panelists had tangible reasons on youth sports’ benefits and why funding needs to be increased for programs in low-income and low-opportunity communities:

Foster-Simeon: “Sports impacts on not just a physical level, but a social level. It’s creating a community where families come together. You’re cooking together and you’re learning about your neighbors. And for the kids, the real value for them in translatable skills that go right into the workplace: Teamwork, discipline, how to lead, when to follow, and responsibility to others”

Johnson re-emphasized the notion of building a community through sport: “Why don’t we build up what’s already there?” Johnson asked. “I live in my city. Our coaches live in our city. Our parents live, work and play in our city, and that’s where investment needs to take place.”

Dr. Feder: “We see kids who have insurance, but it’ll take them two months to get an MRI. There needs to be money for athletic trainers in high school, because that’s a health care extender. Our athletic trainers often become the primary care doctors for kids, from nutrition to check-ups.

See more from the Summit and the latest from LA84 here

LA84 Summit Panel Recap: Voices from the Field

Youth sports is a hot-button topic across the United States, with scholars and advocacy groups constantly aiming to solve relevant topics. However, young athletes themselves often do not get a big enough say about the issues that affect them directly. At the 2016 LA84 Summit, five Student Athletes in Motion (SAMBassadors) aged 11-17 shared their experiences and how they would carry out change in youth sports. See the full video of the panel below.

Problems & Solutions

  • Youth sports are run by adults. It’s a top-down system that gives kids little or no voice in decision-making.
  • LA84 created in July, 2016 a youth advisory panel, called the SAMbassadors. (Student Athletes in Motion.) The first cohort consists of 26 kids ages 11-17.

Voices from the Field: Today’s Athletes Panelists

  • Jaiher Douglas, Basketball, Football, Augustus Hawkins High School
  • Emily Eisner, Founder, Play It Forward, Sierra Canyon School
  • Ezra Frech, Parathlete, Basketball, Track & Field, Brentwood School
  • Kayla Novak, Cycling, Tennis, Redondo Union High School
  • SaraJoy Salib, Water Polo, Venice High School

Moderator: Gary Hall, Jr., Olympian, Swimming, Healthcare Advocate

How to Make Youth Sports Better

Douglas’ solution was succinct: “Make it fun.” All five of the panelists echoed his sentiment, stating how issues like sports dropout rates and lack of engagement could be fixed simply by catering sports to the athletes that play them. “We need to be able to actually play enough,” Novak said. “Sometimes coaches repeat the same things over and over. That can be good, but it can also cut into our time to actually play.”

READ MORE: LA84 Announces Youth Ambassadors Program

For Eisner, who started her own non-profit to address a similar issue, the issue is often that children do not have the ability to play sports even if programs are being offered. “A big thing people don’t always know about is a lack of usable equipment,” she said. “We’d be able to engage a lot more kids in athletics if we worked together to give more schools the equipment.” Frech also reflected on this from an Adaptive Sports angle, explaining how he and his father started Angel City Sports to expand opportunities for physically disabled youth in Southern California.

If I Had a Million Dollars…

Hall, Jr. asked the panelists on what they would do with $1 million directed toward improving youth sports.

Douglas: “Create a food plan. Some kids won’t eat all day, then go to practice and play 100 percent. I would provide healthy snacks so kids don’t play sports on an empty stomach.”

PANEL RECAP: The Impact of the Olympics on Youth Sports

Frech: “There has to be more sports opportunities for athletes with disabilities. Sports is not just an escape for able-bodied athletes. So many athletes who list a limb or have a disability use sports as a way to recover.”

Novak: “We need to invest money in sports that don’t get attention.”

Novak, a cyclist and tennis player, argued how young athletes don’t always have the ability to find the sport that works best for them, bringing up a background story similar to how Olympic medalist and LA84 Summit guest Ibtihaj Muhammad became interested in the sport of fencing.

Novak (left) and Eisner (right).
Novak (left) and Eisner (right).

It’s All About the People

The five young athletes on stage could all be considered success stories. For many, a big reason sports are so valuable to them is the relationships they’ve built with their teammates and coaches that go far beyond the fields of play.

Salib is an only child, and noted how sports gave her a sibling-like bond that she had always wanted. “Water polo gives me 25 other sisters who can support each other when they’re down. It’s something much bigger than just going to school and playing sports,” she said.

PANEL RECAP: Playing Smart: Solutions to the Youth Sports Dropout Problem

For Douglas, his coach at the Brotherhood Crusade program is a role model for the positive impact sports allows us to have on young athletes. “He teaches me lifelong skills: Eye contact, a firm handshake and food etiquette,” Douglas said. “He treats me not just as an athlete or student, but like one of his kids. He knows what’s going on with me at home and at school.”

LA84’s tagline is “Life Ready Through Sport”, and the young athletes on stage were all in accordance on how in order for youth sports to advance toward solving its various problems, there needs to be an increased focus on taking much more out of a game than just a win or loss.

See more from the Summit and the latest from LA84 here

LA84 Summit Recap: Life Transformed Through Sports, Setting a New Course

LA84 Foundation President & CEO Renata Simril delivered the keynote address at the 5th Annual LA84 Foundation Summit on October 27, 2016 in Downtown Los Angeles. The Summit’s title was “Playing Forward: The Present and Future of Youth Sports in Los Angeles.” See the full video of the speech below. 

Her remarks centered around “leveling and elevating” the field. These are two key LA84 themes that Simril explained serve as framework and guide for the foundation.

Leveling the field means providing an opportunity for all children, regardless of family income, geographic location, gender – any factor that hinders a kid’s ability to participate,” Simril said. “And elevating the field means being a national convener, bringing people together to talk about and elevate the role that sports can and do provide for positive youth development.”

Simril’s address following welcoming remarks by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who she thanked for his words. Simril was escorted to the stage by seven-foot-tall mascot, Sam the Eagle, and then introduced to the standing room audience of more than 400 people by Summit emcee Julie Foudy.

READ MORE: The Power of Girls Who Play

“She is considered a civic and private sector trailblazer,” Foudy said of Simril, offering highlights of Simril’s biography. “And of course has done so much in this space for so many years.”

Simril debuted for the audience a brand-new video about LA84. The piece was produced by Fox Sports West, a Summit sponsor.  “As you saw from the video, we’ve made a tremendous impact in the last 30 years, from Santa Barbara to San Diego County,” Simril said.

She continued: “We’re really excited about the work that we’ve done. But what excites me and my team the most is that our work is just beginning,” Simril said. “You know the Olympic model that adorns our 1984 torch: Citius, Altius, Fortius. In Latin, that means, ‘Higher, Faster, Stronger,’ and it’s in the context of those Olympic ideals that we’re here today.”

Simril also shared stories, and showed photographs of, her childhood and the role that sports played. She then spotlighted two student-athletes with connections to programs supported by LA84: High school water polo player and LA84 Sambassador, Sarajoy Salib; and college football player Cailin Moore.

“It is the legacy of our work, transforming the lives of young people, that’s what today is about,” Simril said. “It’s about playing the legacy of our work forward so that we all can create opportunities for the millions of Caylins and SaraJoys out there.”

See more from the Summit and the latest from LA84 here

LA84 Summit Panel Recap: Solutions to the Youth Sports Dropout Problem

Youth sports isn’t as simple as youth deciding they simply want to play sports. For many, there are cost, geographic and social inhibitors that either prevent participation or lead to youth dropping out of sports at an alarming rate. In this LA84 Summit panel, four sports-minded leaders who have made it their life’s work to open up opportunities for youth discussed the issues young athletes face and both the policy and attitude changes needed to scale such a steep barrier facing so many.

Problems & Solutions

  • Nationally, 70% of kids quit sports by age 13.
  • LA84-funded Beyond the Bell middle school sports program has grown 57 percent since 2008-09, by retaining athletes and attracting new ones.
  • LA84 coaching education programs emphasize the importance of creating a positive environment that makes sports fun.

Playing Smart: Solutions to the Youth Sports Dropout Problem Panelists

Rafael AcostaRegional Director, LAUSD Beyond the Bell

Luc RobitaillePresident, Business Operations, Alternative Governor, LA Kings

Jim ThompsonFounder & Chief Executive Officer, Positive Coach Allliance

Nichol WhitemanExecutive Director, Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation

Moderator: Mark Hyman, George Washington University, Author: The Most Expensive Game in Town: The Rising Cost of Youth Sports and the Toll on Today’s Families

Learning to Fail

While sports can be defined between who wins and who loses, the greater gains are taken from learning to cope no matter what situation presents itself. For Whiteman, her personal experiences in sport helped her develop a valuable trait that often is not brought up in youth development. “If I didn’t play sports, I would be able to accept failure,” she said as the surrounding crowd nodded in agreement. “There’s a lot of failure in sport.”

PANEL RECAP: Voices from the Field: Today’s Athletes

The Summit took place during the week before Halloween, and perhaps coincidentally, another crucial foe for young athletes was brought up: Fear. “Without sport, you don’t experience fear,” Thompson said. “Athletes are in an intense situation when they compete in games. They are expected to perform. By experiencing fear or even loss, you can bounce back from it.” While there are limits, the panelists seemed be in accordance on how sports can simulate real-life situations and problems in a safer, learning environment.

The Desire to Play

All of the panelists noted how at the end of the day, the young athlete needs to love practicing and playing in order to fight to stay in their sport against the factors that lead to dropping out. “The Dodgers Foundation is not about trying to develop the future Major League Baseball player,” Whiteman said. “It’s about developing ‘Major League’ citizens. Coaches observe a young person’s economic limits, family stress and physical strain.” So while a lot does come down to a player’s desire to participate, there are ways coaches and organizations can work together to create a youth sports environment designed for athletes to succeed.

The same goes for the attitude held by the players, coaches and parents. Thompson and the Positive Coaching Alliance said it is important to combat the ‘win-at-all-costs’ attitude in sports, one that can dissuade a large portion of youth. “Enjoy sports and accomplish the highest and best self from coaches and athletes,” Thompson said. “We all want to keep kids playing.”

Bringing Sports to the Youth

A six-letter word when it comes to youth sports participation? Access. For all the programs that are offered in Southern California, many are either cost-prohibitive or require too much travel and time investment on the side of both the young athletes and their parents. The Beyond The Bell program has addressed these issues in one fell swoop, setting up free after-school sports programs on-site at LAUSD middle schools.

PANEL RECAP: Equity in Play: Safety, Space & Money

Whiteman and the Dodgers Foundation have created Dodgers Dreamfields, refurbishing worn-down fields in the Los Angeles neighborhoods that need them most. For Robitaille, his hockey programs with the Los Angeles Kings provide the equipment and ice time, both commodities that aren’t always as affordable as other sports. “There should be a mandate that professional teams and players should be involved with youth sports in their communities,” Robitaille added.

See more from the Summit and the latest from LA84 here