Magazine article Parks & Recreation

The Power of the Permit: The 60 Million Reasons to Use It to Ensure a Safe, Equitable and Enjoyable Sports Experience for the Youth of Your Community

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

The Power of the Permit: The 60 Million Reasons to Use It to Ensure a Safe, Equitable and Enjoyable Sports Experience for the Youth of Your Community

Article excerpt

Following is the first in a series of articles highlighting the work of the Aspen Institute's Sport and Society Program and its Project Play initiative: in particular, its recommendation to local governments to use the "Power of the Permit" in an effort to promote equitable, safe and enjoyable sports experiences for all youth, in every community. This column provides background on and defines the issue. Future columns will share examples of policies national youth sports organizations have put in place that help further the standard of safe and equitable participation in youth sports, as well as allow you to hear from recognized leaders in the field.


NRPA has been fortunate to participate in the Aspen Institute's Sport and Society Program. Sports journalist Tom Farrey--now the Sport and Society Program's executive director --realized that the needs of America's children were not being met, that children need to be active and enjoy the many benefits of playing sports and that society was placing too many barriers in the way of youth participation.

Following two years of roundtables and dialogue with more than 250 leaders and stakeholders, the Institute released its initial report in 2015, titled Sport for All Play for Life: A Playbook to Get Every Kid in the Game. The report provides an ambitious vision and calls for "reimagining organized youth sports" by prioritizing inclusion and health benefits, while also acknowledging the value of unstructured (pick-up) play.

The report also lays out for decisionmakers strategies to remove the numerous barriers to participation, which impact all youth--whether they come from lower-income families and cannot afford to pay to play, or they suffer from the win-at-all-costs mentality that weeds out and excludes youth of moderate skills. The recommendations are simple and direct, including asking kids what they want, encouraging sports sampling at a young age, focusing on age- and skill-appropriate development and "training the trainers," ensuring all coaches, especially the thousands of volunteers who make youth sports happen in every community, are given the basic tools to teach, mentor and see the potential in every child. Among these recommendations is one that stands out most to the park and recreation community --the Power of the Permit.

At NRPA's 2015 Conference in Las Vegas, Farrey spoke about the report and Project Play's vision for structural change in youth sports. He spent the majority of his time talking directly to the park and recreation community and the critical role we must play if we're serious about removing the barriers so that all children can participate and benefit from youth sports. The issue of the Power of the Permit resonated with everyone in attendance.

Power of the Permit

University of Missouri School of Law Professor Douglas E. Abrams is often cited as the authority on this topic and has written extensively on it. Simply stated, Power of the Permit refers to the "recognized authority of government agencies to manage public property, including public sports and recreation venues." The value of this cannot be understated. Two key areas where this impacts parks and recreation are safety and equity.

The National Council on Youth Sports reports that more than 44 million boys and girls are participating in organized youth sports today, with the total registered participants, including adult coaches, officials and administrators, top ping out above 60 million. …

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