How Do We Fund Youth Sports During COVID-19?

By Janet Carter, President & CEO – Coaching Corps

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal addressed the economic impact COVID-19 will have on the youth sports industry, particularly youth sports travel and organized events. These activities are geared toward middle- and upper-income families—those who can afford to pay the steep fees required to participate in organized sports. What about sports for the 60% of kids who rely on free and reduced lunches to avoid going hungry?

Bachman, the author, makes light mention toward the end of the article of kids living in low-income communities, stating that less than 22% of youth living in households making under $25,000 play sports compared to 43% in households making $100,000.

Failing to headline that kids in low-income areas have far less access to sports than their better-off peers undermines the efforts of organizations like ours that are working to remedy this imbalance. Underserved kids must be made the epicenter of the conversation about what makes this pandemic so concerning for youth sports, beyond the economic losses of the industry.

After-school programs such as Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCA and parks and recreation centers that serve kids in poorly-funded neighborhoods have closed their doors because of COVID-19. Many families rely on the sports programs these centers provide to bolster the emotional and social skill-building their kids may not get elsewhere. Without adequate funding to restart these programs once stay-at-home orders lift, they risk closing for good. Where then will these kids access sports?

A number of organizations have signed a petition facilitated by National Council of Youth Sports asking Congress for a $8.5 billion investment in the youth sports industry. The proposal makes a strong case for giving the youth travel industry a strong infusion of capital to get through the pandemic and to help it recover afterward. To be fair, it also mentions kids who cannot afford the fees to play organized sports—those like the kids Coaching Corps serves—but the message must be stronger.

As I shared with Jon Solomon for his article for the Aspen Institute’s Project Play, if we do not explicitly state the need for sports funding dedicated to kids in low-income communities, it is likely these kids will see little of their fair share of the government’s investment.

Sports are good for all kids, no matter their socioeconomic status. But if we want to continue making a difference in the lives of underserved kids, then we have to take the long view when we talk about investing in youth sports. Children living in low-income communities already get the short end of the stick by not having access to the same resources their middle- and upper-income peers do.

We must start funding underserved kids in equal measure so they have a fair shot at becoming their best.


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Going Above and Beyond the Call of Duty

Benita Vargas-Brown, Volleyball Coach at Hampstead Hill Academy

Benita Vargas-Brown grew up in one of the poorest parts of Baltimore. She always wanted to make a difference in the city, which is why she became a social worker. That same passion eventually led her to coach and mentor kids in sports. Learn more about Benita’s journey in her own words.
How did you become a Coaching Corps coach?
I didn’t go looking for coaching, it found me. I was really stressed with my job and my final semester in undergrad, so my husband said, “You’re really not helping yourself. Why don’t you leave your job, take the semester off, and figure out what you want to do next?” So, I went to a volunteering fair, and that’s when I got to know Coaching Corps. It was destiny: They were looking for a volleyball coach, and I am qualified to coach volleyball. They said they needed a coach for Hampstead Hill Academy, which is literally just a walk away from our home. So, it was really perfect.
Can you tell us more about the challenges that the kids you coach face at school and at home?
When people hear Baltimore, crime and violence are among the usual challenges that come to mind, so it was extra important to keep the kids off the streets. I’ve had to drive some of the girls home so they don’t have to take the bus when it’s dark.
There have also been some differences among the girls. The school is located at Patterson Park, where on one side you have the million-dollar houses, and on the other you have boarded-up houses. So you wind up having kids coming from privileged and underprivileged situations. This created some interesting dynamics within the team that led to some difficult conversations, but we got through it eventually. That’s one of the benefits of team sports. We got this whole learning experience that wound up really positive at the end.
You mentioned something about “interesting team dynamics.” Can you share more about that?
This is actually one of the things I’m proudest [of] about my team. The girls take it upon themselves to address differences within the group. At one point, it became very clear during our practice that something wasn’t right. We were on this championship drive but there was obvious tension within the team. The girls came to me and gathered as a group to talk things through. The fact that they came up with that strategy on their own is really amazing. For me, it meant that we’re doing something right. After that talk, we got back together as a team. I’m so glad we did it because I know for a fact we wouldn’t have won the championship without sorting things out. Everybody makes mistakes. At the end of the day, what’s important is to be there and have each other’s backs.
What changes or improvements did you see in the girls as a result of being on the team?
The most obvious one would be the sense of maturity. To be in a position where you have a responsibility over something, to be able to practice and play, there are expectations. If you didn’t come to practice on Wednesday, you’re not going to play on Thursday: that’s the consequence for skipping practice.  Eventually it wasn’t the consequence that really drove them. It was their commitment.
All my [Coaching Corps] girls who tried out for high school sports made their teams. There are two highly-rated schools in Baltimore, Baltimore Polytechnic institute and Baltimore City College. To get into those schools is every parent’s and kid’s dream. They have great education and high graduation rates, and they don’t tolerate gang-related violence, which creates a safer environment for the kids. Fifteen of the girls from the team got in and played for Poly while 13 went to City. That makes me really happy.
Wow! If there’s one way to describe success and promoting equity, that would be it. With all these experiences, what advice would you give aspiring coaches and mentors for kids?
Show up. You have to be there. You have to be consistent. You can’t cancel on these kids. Over the course of my time, if I know something’s going to come up in my schedule, I plan for an assistant coach to take over. Kids know if you care. You can figure out everything else, there are Youtube videos for that. You just have to show up because these kids expect you to be there for them.
Afterschool Partners


Boys & Girls Club of Central Florida

City of Orlando Athletics

Afterschool Program Partners


JT Dorsey Foundation

Afterschool Program Partners

San Diego

Gompers Preparatory Academy

High Tech High

La Maestra Foundation – Center for Youth Advancement at Generations

The Monarch School

Pro Kids | The First Tee of San Diego

Soccer Kids America

YMCA of San Diego County

Afterschool Program Partners

Los Angeles

A Place Called Home


After School All Stars: Los Angeles

Boys & Girls Club of Venice

Boys & Girls Clubs of Carson

Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Los Angeles

Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Monica

Boys and Girls Clubs of the LA Harbor

Brotherhood Crusade

City of Huntington Park Department of Parks

East Los Angeles Rising Youth Club

Equitas Academy

Girls on the Run of Los Angeles

Girls Play Los Angeles

ICES Education


L.A.C.E.R. Afterschool Programs

Long Beach Parks, Recreation and Marine

Los Angeles Rec and Parks

Major League Baseball Youth Academy

Norwalk La Mirada Unified

P.F. Bresee Foundation

Sloane Stephens Foundation

Street Soccer USA: Los Angeles

Team Prime Time

Variety Boys & Girls Club

Watts Rams

YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles

Afterschool Program Partners


Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta: Samuel L. Jones Boys & Girls Club
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All Dorchester Sports and Leadership

Boston Centers for Youth & Families


Cambridge Community Center

East End House

Oak Square YMCA

Sole Train: Boston Runs Together