It's About Time

Throughout American history, presidents have been passionate about sports.

Dwight Eisenhower was a golf fanatic who played 1,000-plus rounds during his eight-year stay at the White House. Gerald Ford played college football at the University of Michigan, and was a member of two national championship teams. John F. Kennedy was a swimmer and sailor; Richard Nixon could often be found in the bowling alley in the White House basement, and Jimmy Carter loved running and tennis.

Our newest leader’s enthusiasm for basketball has been well-documented, but thankfully President Barack Obama’s passion for sports runs much deeper and in a much different direction than that of his predecessors.

He cares deeply about kids and sports--and it shows.

Finally, we have a leader who recognizes the importance of sports in the all-around development of children and--equally important--wants to do something about it.

New Office, New Hope

In case you didn’t hear, a new office has been created--The White House Office of Olympic, Paralympic and Youth Sport.

In a press release from the White House that announced the creation of this office, President Obama is quoted:

“It is an important goal of my administration to give our nation’s children every possible tool they need to grow, learn and succeed in life. A key part of this is increasing access to healthy, constructive activities like sports for our nation’s children. Too many American kids--particularly those in urban areas--have no access to organized sporting activities. Sports are an important way to instill values, judgment and teamwork in our nation’s kids, and this new office reflects our commitment to giving all our children a chance to thrive. As the International Olympic Committee moves forward with their selection process, we hope that this new office can serve as a model for youth involvement worldwide.” The official White House release continues:

Some of the actions to be taken include:

· Recommend federal policies and programs to the president to enhance opportunities and access for youth participation in sports, with particular focus on youth in urban areas

· Foster and encourage youth sporting, educational and cultural events involving Olympic value-based programs and the participation of U.S. Olympians and Paralympians

· Coordinate with appropriate executive departments and agencies--including the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services--to engage in outreach to state and local government officials, nonprofit organizations and the private sector

What does all of this mean? How will it benefit sports programs in our communities? What type of positive impact will it make on the boys and girls who participate in our programs? These are questions we’ll hopefully see answers to sooner rather than later.

Big Challenges, Big Dreams

|The youth sports landscape is complex, and the issues are widespread. This office requires bold thinkers who aren’t afraid to step off the path that has been traveled for far too long. Everything must be addressed, from funding facilities and programming for inner cities to holding volunteers accountable for their actions.

The former organization, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, hadn’t really accomplished anything because it was a political appointment without a clearly defined vision or mission. I sense this office will be different. It must be different.

The National Alliance For Youth Sports is building sports programs for underprivileged children in regions of the world where they have never existed before--Africa, Mexico, India, etc. We’ve gone into remote villages and AIDS-infested towns and started programs for children who have never participated in organized activities, much less even kicked a ball.

And you know what? Ironically, we’re developing the perfect youth-sports model based on what we have learned from the mistakes made throughout the United States over the years.

We know what’s been done wrong. We’ve seen the programs that have lost focus as well as the out-of-control behaviors that demoralize kids. We know all the potential landmines that exist, and we’re steering clear of them. We have a clean canvas to work with and millions of children who await change in their lives. I know the direction this new office must take and what needs to be done; I’m confident you do, too. Hopefully, you’re doing it in youth programs every day.

Fred Engh is founder and CEO of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla., which has been advocating positive and safe sports for children since 1981. He is also the author of Why Johnny Hates Sports, which is available on He can be reached via e-mail at