Sports: Philadelphia Youth Sports Collaborative is a Hub for Supporting Young Athletes

Mike Barsotti, director of external affairs at the Philadelphia Youth Sports Collaborative, encourages kids in the Philadelphia area to get involved with one of their many partner programs.

Founded in 2009, the Philadelphia Youth Sports Collaborative, or PYSC has been on a mission to provide affordable sports activities to families around the Philadelphia area.

The collaborative itself consists of 66 member organizations, including Beat the Streets Philly, Boys and Girls Clubs of Philadelphia, and Philadelphia Dragons Sports Association. Each group has all the same goal in mind: engage young people in putting themselves out there in the world of sports.

Mike Barsotti has worked at PYSC since 2019 as the director of external affairs. His job consists of dealing with the member organizations, as well as state legislators, city council personnel, and all of the behind-the-scenes items that make the organization run as smoothly as possible.

Photo courtesy Mike Barsotti

What is the mission of the Philadelphia Youth Sports Collaborative?

Our role is helping the needs of kids as much as possible and that involves training coaches, training staff members, training board members and creating this network so that these organizations can work together a little more effectively and not feel so siloed in their work. On a larger scale, we do a lot of system building, working with city and state government to dedicate funding and resources towards creating youth sports opportunities around Philadelphia.

Are you the network hub of a lot of these organizations?

We are a central convener of the 66 members, who do different sports in different neighborhoods. Some are multimillion dollar huge organizations serving thousands of kids and others are little neighborhood groups who serve maybe a few dozen, but we try and support all of them with, again, these training and resources and building this broader system that is collaborative across Philadelphia.

What impact do you believe youth sports have on the children of Philadelphia?

There are also a lot of strong correlations between youth sport participants and higher academic performance, better career outcomes. There are so many benefits when it comes to sports and I think it’s this inherent environment created when you have a caring adult and a group of peers who all want to achieve something together and there’s this gradual skill building that goes on. It’s almost trial and error, but you learn to fail and pick yourself back up and keep working harder as you develop those new skills and that really develops into a lot of life skills in the classroom, in the office space, in relationship building, sport can really have this profound impact.

How has the PYSC dealt with COVID over the past couple years?

Now, the actual youth sports providers have gone through a really rough run. Obviously, during the first year of the pandemic, everything was shut down here in Philadelphia, no one could lead in person programs and everything moved online, which had its successes early on when people were all kind of getting used to it and it was something new.

But for kids, especially after just months and months of learning through a computer screen, they would then go and do sports through Zoom with their teammates, maybe have a camera up and try to do soccer drills in the living room. Some groups had success pulling it off, but everyone saw as the months went on, engagement really started going down. They started having fewer screens on, fewer kids showing up and it was really just a hindrance to the work. So by being able to get kids vaccinated and healthy again, getting them back in-person for these programs has been so big., But the pandemic exacerbated existing inequity that is in our society.

How are the kids affected by COVID-19?

Before, already, the greatest predictor of youth sports participation was household income. So, wealthier family’s kids were participating at almost a 2/3 rate, whereas kids living in poverty were participating at a rate of 1/3. Philadelphia is obviously one of the poorest big cities, so the pandemic made a lot of these issues worse. 

Where many schools in the suburbs and outside of big cities went back to in-person things very quickly, a lot of those extracurriculars and those sports teams back in the suburbs, they were playing again by late 2020. And most of these teams in the city and most of these clubs in the city weren’t able to resume because of guidelines. They were trying to be responsible and try to take care of the kids

How can someone get involved?

Anyone who is interested in helping out as a volunteer or coach can definitely scroll through [the website], find the sport, find the community, find the neighborhood they want, and reach out to one of those organizations.

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