An Evaluation of the Youth Sports and Play Grant Program

Nicholas Pitas, Sammie Powers, Megan McCabe, Austin Barrett, Theresa Morrissey, Dianne Palladino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Participation in youth sports provides a variety of benefits to young people and the communities that they live in. Unfortunately, these benefits are not equitably distributed, as persistent issues exist with regard to access and participation. In this manuscript, we describe and evaluate a grant program intended to increase equitable access to youth sports in communities across the United States. We conclude by providing a series of “lessons learned” that may transfer to other park and recreation professionals who wish to address issues of equity in the context of youth sports. The Youth Sports and Play Grant (YSP) is a collaborative effort of the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) and the Walt Disney Company. The YSP funds park improvement projects with the potential to increase equitable access to youth sports in the context of local public park and recreation agencies. During the 2021 grant cycle, NRPA selected 12 park improvement projects. Our evaluation utilizes data from a series of pre-and post-project focus groups conducted with representatives from grantee communities. Our results focus on the impacts of the grant process on (a) the professionals that participated in the grant process, and (b) the grantee communities. Professionals indicated an increased understanding of equity, awareness of constraints, and perceived agency to make positive change. At the community level, the YSP allowed for increased programming, more partnerships to facilitate youth sports participation, and greater facility capacity. A greater understanding of the value of authentic youth voice was recognized by professionals, and as an outcome at the community level. Based on these results, we provide a series of recommendations, including the need to emphasize community and peer-learning among professionals, to provide additional education for professionals on systemic issues related to equity, and to develop a robust process for soliciting and incorporating authentic youth voice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)75-86
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Park and Recreation Administration
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 8 2024


  • equity
  • grant funding
  • public-private partnerships
  • Youth sports

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Urban Studies
  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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