In 1997, Paul Caccamo, a Harvard-educated youth-development consultant, punted his private practice upon meeting Julie Kennedy, a Washington, D.C.-area teacher who changed the lives of young girls with one simple tool: a soccer ball.
In 1997, Paul Caccamo, a Harvard-educated youth-development consultant, punted his private practice upon meeting Julie Kennedy, a Washington, D.C.-area teacher who changed the lives of young girls with one simple tool: a soccer ball. Recognizing that sports lend themselves perfectly to youth development, Caccamo accepted a minimum-wage position with Kennedy's nonprofit DC SCORES, designed to keep kids engaged in school through afterschool sports. He soon launched a national office under the name America SCORES in 1999, using soccer to teach kids life skills and help them set academic goals in a dozen cities nationwide. As it became evident over the next decade that providers of all kinds of youth sports were seeking support for their efforts with at-risk kids, Caccamo in 2009 founded Up2Us, a separate nonprofit now boasting more than 700 youth sports organizations and a staff of 27. AB senior editor Paul Steinbach recently asked Caccamo for an Up2Us update.
Q: Your organization coined the phrase sports-based youth development. What is SBYD?
A: Sports are a natural means to inspire kids through positive peer associations, adult role models, parent-engagement opportunities, programming that's intended to teach about conflict resolution and violence prevention. This is what we've discovered over 20 years in youth development, yet it's happening right there in sports. What isn't happening is a concerted effort to bring these qualities out in the youth sports arena. Because that's what we're doing, we established the term sports-based youth development.
Q: How does SBYD go beyond what typical sports programs offer?
A: When the sports program is designed to engage all members of the team, not just the five best athletes, and when coaches are trained to discuss issues like how kids are doing in school, the proven impact of that is those kids desire to stay in school, stay involved and say no to negative behavior. Once we wake up as a country and say, "We have to engage kids - we can't raise a generation of have-nots," we'll realize that there are kids who don't have many opportunities to play sports, and that sports are one of the most cost-effective solutions to engage them.
Q: How do you intend to grow your Coach Across America program, now 500 coaches strong?
A: We want to build Coach Across America as a national workforce of trained adults, who love baseball, love hockey, love soccer, but they just need the training to go and use that sport to address the kind of challenges that kids in poverty situations are facing - from health to violence. We're learning a lot in terms of what it takes to do that effectively. So our goal is to have training and tools available online for every coach in the country, that all coaches know that term that we talked about and say, "Hey, I want to be an SBYD coach, as well."
Q: What are the stakes?
A: This is not me being dramatic. This is reality, because we hear it every single day from our coaches and from kids themselves when we go visit our programs: "If I didn't have this team, I'd have a gang."