Aspen Institute's Project Play Launches Campaign with Industry Leaders, Pro Athletes to Keep Kids from Quitting Sports

Don’t Retire, Kid debuts Aug. 4 on ESPN; new national parent survey highlights challenges

WASHINGTON, DC, Aug. 02, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The average child today spends less than three years playing a sport, quitting by age 11, most often because the sport just isn’t fun anymore. Parents report that kids as young as first grade are feeling stressed – and families are under pressure to cover rising costs, according to research released today by the Aspen Institute’s Project Play initiative.

To keep more kids involved in sports, the Aspen Institute is launching a public awareness campaign with industry leaders, Don’t Retire, Kid, that debuts Sunday, Aug. 4 on ESPN. 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.

Last year, only 38% of kids ages 6 to 12 played team sports on a regular basis, down from 45% in 2008. The PSAs in the campaign, developed by Arnold Worldwide, draw attention to the fact that too many children are “retiring” from sports prematurely, due in part to pressure from adults and pressure on families to cover escalating costs of participation.

Don’t Retire, Kid launches on ESPN on Sunday during the 8 a.m. ET SportsCenter with a PSA of a young boy announcing his retirement from sports. The PSA will be followed by an interview on SportsCenter with former NBA star Kobe Bryant, lead spokesperson of the campaign. Other sports figures featured in the campaign include:

  • Sue Bird, WNBA player for the Seattle Storm
  • Clayton Kershaw, pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers
  • Sloane Stephens, American professional tennis player
  • Mookie Betts, outfielder for the Boston Red Sox
  • Albert Pujols, first baseman for the Los Angeles Angels
  • Wayne Gretzky, former NHL star
  • Julie Foudy, two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup champion
  • Cody Bellinger, first baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers
  • Muffet McGraw, head women’s basketball coach at Notre Dame
  • Geno Auriemma, head women’s basketball coach at Connecticut
  • Dave Roberts, manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers
  • Nomar Garciaparra, former Major League Baseball star

The social media campaign uses #DontRetireKid and drives to, where parents can find a host of resources to help parents navigate the often confusing and frustrating world of youth sports. Among them: Project Play’s playbook with eight strategies to keep kids in the game; how to find the right sport based on health benefits and risks; free online training on how to coach kids more effectively; and checklists for parents based on a child’s age and activity level.

Findings from a new national survey of parents of youth athletes, conducted by the Aspen Institute with the Utah State University Families in Sports Lab, offer key insights on the challenges of getting and keeping kids involved in sports. On average, families are spending annually $693 per child in one sport, with some parents paying tens of thousands of dollars. Kids quit playing one sport after 2.86 years on average, mostly because they stopped enjoying their sport, and they don’t go on to try other sports. Parent survey results are compared sport-by-sport in the Project Play article.

“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. I commend the organizations at the center of Project Play 2020 for showing the leadership to keep sport in the lives of more children.”

ESPN will incorporate campaign messaging and discuss the importance of youth sports during live event coverage with Major League Baseball, Little League World Series and X Games. The network will launch youth sports stories across its digital and linear platforms featuring kids, parents and athletes, digging into the issues and highlighting success stories.

“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.”

In September, Don’t Retire, Kid will be extended by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation into its regional markets of focus. The goal is culture change in Southeast Michigan and Western New York, where, guided by Project Play reports in those regions, the Foundation has already issued more than $57 million in grants to bolster youth sports since 2015 and committed another $200 million for parks, trails and greenways. The Foundation’s namesake, the late founder and longtime owner of the Buffalo Bills, believed in lifelong exercise and play being a key component of living a full and productive life. 

“This is much bigger than sports. We’re talking about impacting the health and well-being of the next generation of our communities and our local economies if we don’t get and keep our children active regularly,” said David O. Egner, president & CEO, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation. “Our team has already worked to increase access to free play and youth sports within our regions through the support of new play spaces, skateparks, equipment sharing programs and more. We’re excited to continue to work with the Aspen Institute and Project Play to help change the culture around play nationally.”

About Don’t Retire, Kid

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 members of Project Play 2020 are Amazon, American College of Sports Medicine, DICK’S Sporting Goods, ESPN, Hospital for Special Surgery, Global Obesity Prevention Center, Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, NBC Sports, National Hockey League, Nike, New York Road Runners, PGA of America, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, The Sports Facilities Advisory | The Sports Facilities Management, Sports & Fitness Industry Association, Target, Under Armour, U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and U.S. Tennis Association. Technical guidance is provided by Ketchum and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About Project Play

An initiative of the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program, Project Play develops, applies and shares knowledge that helps stakeholders build healthy communities through sports. For more information, visit

About The Aspen Institute
The Aspen Institute is a nonpartisan forum for values-based leadership and the exchange of ideas. Based in Washington DC, the Institute also has campuses in Aspen, CO, and on the Wye River in eastern Maryland, and maintains offices in New York and several other cities. For more information, visit



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