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Sensitive Sports

While sports have been a mainstay in kids’ culture for as long as we can remember, today’s most powerful plays involve teaching kids character lessons in ways that only athletics can.


“It is your response to winning and losing that makes you a winner or a loser.” – Harry Sheehy

ONE TREND: Sensitive Sports

On All In with Cam Newton, Nickelodeon’s summer show, a highly lauded football player and his 6’5” frame can’t help but feel larger than life. But in this show, Newton serves as a facilitator, not simply conveying lessons he’s learned, but connecting kids with authentic experts in their preferred passion. And interestingly, the lessons of sports are seen as all the more transferable because many of Cam’s stars are interested in activities beyond sports. He shows his support for a girl who wants to play football, a boy who wants to dance, an aspiring veterinarian and animal activist, a snake enthusiast trying to create a YouTube show, and a cartoon fanatic hoping to create characters that connect. In the world of this show, the skills of sports aren’t reserved for athletes…Instead, they are a shared set of character traits that can connect and include, not exclude non-athletes.

Using sports as a tool is one thing, but the show represents a broader trend in athlete attitude – sports are a means to an end and that end is as much about “nice” and never-giving-up as it is about any one game. This softer side of sports isn’t about just one athlete. Instead, it might be a response to a broader movement among Millennial parents to prioritize sensitivity over success (Strottman/C+R Research Millennial Moms Study, 2014). Although Mike Matheny’s famous Matheny Manifesto, on putting kids back at the center of sports and sidelining overzealous parents when necessary is surely not a reaction to parenting trends, it fits and has taken hold in a culture when parents see that sports can build kids up and can just as easily tear them down. Matheny writes, “I believe that the biggest role of the parent is to be a silent source of encouragement…if you ask most boys what they would want their parents to do during the game; they would say 'NOTHING'…You as parents need to be the silent.” In many towns, parent-coaches require sensitivity training before they take the field. And while sports can certainly be a mixed bag for many kids, this trend suggests that kid experts are taking sports seriously, and seeking to take its best traits to a broad range of today’s kids. For brands and marketers who might have seen sports as polarizing, or as a tricky business because of the challenges inherent to partnering with athletes, we encourage them to review the game footage and make another attempt! Sports matter more than ever to kids, and brands have opportunities to take advantage of the many dimensions of today’s games.

ONE BRAND: Girls on the Run

This non-profit creator of an experience-based curriculum surrounding getting girls to run embodies the use of sports as a way to inspire and guide. The vision: “a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams.” We say, “game on.”

ONE FACT: 40% of kids participated in a team sport in 2015, an increase from the previous year.

According to the same study, however, the rate of kids who stay physically active to truly healthy levels through sports continues to drop. (STATE OF PLAY 2016 TRENDS AND DEVELOPMENTS, The Aspen Institute Project Play)