During the first wave of COVID, our team was concerned that potential sponsors and donors might be hesitant to invest in youth sports during a time when families were struggling with basic needs due to a loss of income. But, we also knew that kids were struggling with mental health; the missed social connections, the stress of watching their parents deal with financial uncertainty, and the stress of adapting to online school and learning remotely. Sports were not available to many kids during the pandemic, and many kids suffered the loss.
So, why invest in sports? Why do they matter? Because once basic needs are covered, kids still need to be engaged. Participating in sports gives kids the opportunity to feel valued, to have a sense of belonging and to focus on having fun. I have my own personal experience on how sports gave me some hope during my childhood, and how it led me to my current career.
Growing up in a small town in the midwest, I lived with my mom and three brothers after my parents divorced when I was six. After my parents divorced, my mom quickly fell into a deep depression, and we quickly fell into poverty. She jumped from sales job to sales job, hoping those jobs would prove lucrative but never finding success. At one point, she even delivered papers to supplement her income, bundling us up at 5:00 a.m. and taking us along on her route while we slept in the backseat. While I never went hungry, I knew what it meant when the lights didn’t come on and I was aware that we were living on the edge. I could see the worry on my mom’s face, and her anxiety became my anxiety.
When my mom wasn’t working, she was sleeping or reading a book; little was known about mental health at that time and these were her tools for escaping our situation. With little structure to my day and little adult supervision, I spent a lot of time on my bike, roaming around town looking for things to do and feeling listless. One day, I saw a sign for little league registration, and fortunately it was affordable and I begged my mom to sign me up.
Finally I had something to do, something to look forward to, and somewhere to go. At 4 pm I would ride my bike to practice at our local park. I had a coach that told me I was a good shortstop; I joined the team on visits to Dairy Queen and for a period of time every day, got to feel like every other kid. And, I remember being so joyful when my mom got out of bed and away from her countless books to sit in the stands and cheer me on. Seeing her amongst the other parents felt normal; it gave me hope.
That feeling of hope got packaged up that Christmas in the form of a little red Wilson bat. I can still remember the thrill and sound of hitting the ball with that bat, and I treasured it. As I grew older and our situation evolved, we had to move to smaller and smaller apartments. At one point, my mom warned me that I could only take one box of belongings with me. By then, I was in high school and the bat was entirely too small, and I no longer played softball. But it went in that box. I dragged that bat with me everywhere, because it held so many memories and good feelings. After I left for college, my mom moved in with my brother, who offered her respite and a chance to heal from years of financial uncertainty and untreated mental health issues. The little red bat went missing at that point, but its significance was not lost on me.
When I was looking for a career change and learned that Every Kid Sports was hiring, I knew that working to ensure kids have the chance to play sports would be meaningful to me. With mental health issues on the rise in adolescents, as well as excessive screen time, now more than ever we need to make sure that activities such are accessible and affordable to all kids. Every kid truly needs the chance to engage, to connect, and to plain have fun, and sports gives kids the opportunity to do so.
– Amanda, Donor Relations, The Every Kid Sports team