After 5 years of curating the web for insight and innovation, we’ve learned that the most promising new ideas have two things in common: They use existing systems with an insightful new twist, and most importantly, leave no wasted potential on the table. That’s where genius really tends to send us all soaring.

Let us point you to a concept that could change the world for all of us. It uses well-established aspirations and a huge existing pipeline to reliably help millions of children reach their full potential.

Before we dive in, let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine how the culture in all middle and high schools would change if every student-athlete had to show that they were putting their full effort and attention into their classroom and service to others. Not just barely passing but demonstrating really Rigorous Intention work when it came to their studies and character.

What if participation in all youth sports was a privilege that kids had to earn?

Turns out, there’s a working model of this that is marrying education and youth sports in a big way!

Meet The Stamford Peace Youth Foundation! This program aims to level the playing field by emphasizing character as the qualifier for participation in youth sports, while directly supporting student-athletes with meaningful academic support and other interventions.

We started working on this article with the idea that we would tell you about a very cool youth basketball program offering kids more than a better jump shot. While doing our background research, we quickly realized that Stamford Peace was on to something much bigger: A transformational opportunity for education and sports. The potential here is simply astounding.

Unlike a lot of important social changes, we would not have to re-invent the wheel to make a leap of progress. Stamford Peace, through its Beyond Limits Academic Program, is using the aspirations and systems already in place! We just need to expand our expectations for what is possible.

In this case, it’s a matter of inspiring thought leaders in school systems around the world to use existing hopes and dreams to expand outcomes for perhaps hundreds of millions of children. Right now, we are leaving vast quantities of full potential on the table.

The Magnitude of the Potential

To understand the vast potential that the Stamford Peace model offers, let’s begin with some statistics. (They blew my mind.)

  • In the U.S. alone, three out of four families have at least one child playing an organized sport. That amounts to 45 million kids involved in the athletics pipeline. 1 Imagine the statistics for youth sports on a global scale, with the passions for sports like soccer, baseball, and hockey. (I searched for those and could not find them.)  
  • I did find a mindboggling document that said youth sports is a $15.5 billion market in the US alone. “The youth sports market rivals the size of the $14 billion NFL.2 That statistic is made doubly thought-provoking by the next fact.
  • By age 15, as many as 80% of these young athletes have quit organized youth sports. 3 

We know there are many valuable lessons attached to sports participation. Unfortunately, with the current model’s limited scope, that last statistic may mean that many children exit the pipeline, having been on a race to nowhere. (Especially low-income children.)

What if we flip the meaning of those three discouraging statistics to yield better outcomes on and off the court?

Imagine the potential of using the youth sports pipeline to do much more than teach headers, hat tricks, and 3-point shots. Instead of hoping that kids exit their school sports careers with the right life lessons, what if we used the “hook” that sports create to truly hold their feet to the fire academically for as long as they were participating? And what if we utilized the existing system to consciously instill values like responsibility, collaboration, and community service?

Adding the demonstration of education as an essential life skill as the foundational qualifier for participation in youth sports could level the playing field and unleash the vast untapped potential for so many children!

And Stamford Peace offers us the beginning of a model to do just that. It’s scalable and may go a very long way in solving some of the vexing problems we have in our quest to use education to raise great citizens and stewards of the future.

The Origin Story

At 40, Stamford Peace founder, Brian Kriftcher, walked away from a Wall Street career and the successful hedge fund he had helped launch. His roots in education and sports called him home. His mom had been a teacher in Queens and his father, a former college basketball player who became a renown Superintendent of Brooklyn and Staten Island high schools. Together they laid the foundation of service to others that eventually became Brian’s calling.

Brian tells me his dad used to say, “We have to help color blind children dream in color.” And that’s so true. Think of the masses of children for whom a bleak landscape offers no sense of what’s actually possible for them.

After some initial steps into education and basketball coaching, Brian realized that many high-potential student-athletes lose their way forward. A devastating outcome of their poor work habits and undisciplined behavior. They were the color blind children who his dad was referring to. They could not be what they could not see.

Instead of dropping out, many student-athletes were failing out. Brian noted that some high school basketball programs saw more of their players go to prison after playing than go on to college.

Like all the founders we write about here on Ever Widening Circles, Brian could not look at this crushing problem and do nothing.

And as luck would have it, Brian had seen an amazing global model for connecting sports to “life-skills success” in an organization for which he eventually became board chairman: Peace Players International.

Peace Players International uses basketball to bridge divides between kids in conflict areas around the world: Northern Ireland, Cyprus, the Middle East, South Africa and now some communities in the U.S. (We will be writing about this inspiring organization soon! So, stay tuned.) Brian’s work with Peace Players International gave him a window on the fact that youth sports systems could be used to unleash potential and connect athletics to our shared humanity.

Image: Girls on the Stamford Basketball team standing with smiles and inspiring posters.

Source: Stamford Peace Youth Foundation

Now, ten years after Brian started The Stamford Peace Project, they are on a roll and honing their vision to use basketball as a tool of positive influence; helping to arm kids with what they all actually need to be successful in life.

Stamford Peace has been involved in shaping the future for nearly 1,000 boys and girls, age 5 to 18, from the surrounding communities near Stamford, Connecticut.

The key here is that kids who want to participate in the Stamford Peace basketball program find themselves part of a comprehensive academic support network that extends far beyond the basketball court. Stamford Peace’s Beyond Limits Academic Program, offers afterschool tutoring, enrichment activities, advocacy, and informal mentoring to primarily lower-income Stamford middle and high school students who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunch.

And to capture all the potential from this part of the system, Beyond Limits uses a “peer-to-peer” approach. The program matches local high school juniors and seniors and some local college students with kids who otherwise could not afford high-level academic support. In a win/win framework, the tutors are paid $20 per hour, but the kids only pay $5 per hour. Stamford Peace subsidizes the difference.

In addition to the responsibility and income that results from having a part-time job, the tutors develop valuable life skills such as role modeling, empathy, appreciation of difference, reinforced subject matter knowledge, and teaching and communication skills.

While Beyond Limits was initially rolled out by Stamford Peace to support Stamford’s local basketball student-athletes, it now supports even more non-athlete students than it does athlete students!

Most importantly, all these kids now carry with them a remarkable toolbox of coping skills, character assets, and academic strength that will be theirs to access for the rest of their lives.

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Stamford Peace believes in using an expanded model for youth sports to bring out all the potential in every child.

“Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be, and he will become as he can and should be.”
―Stephen R. Covey

The Boundless Potential of the Model

Let’s have a look at a video that explains the essentials of the Stamford Peace system and try to think big. Whatever your culture or favored sport, imagine how the elements in this video could impact your own child or the children in your community:

What would the world be like if, from an early age, priorities were in this order?

A referee at the Hall of Fame Invitational recently told Coach K, “I’ve been reffing for thirty-five years, and I’ve never seen a group of kids who were better as a combination of sportsmen and players.”

That’s high praise these days. 

The Bottom Line: Without asking society to change their hopes and dreams for their children, the Stamford Peace model could better leverage those hopes and dreams. Thereby producing great citizen/neighbors, no matter when a child’s sports participation ended.

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Now, Let’s Shift to the Big Picture

Have you ever scratched your head at the priorities we are modeling for our children? Why do we make professional athletes into “heroes” and pay them lavishly without knowing if they’ve done responsible, courageous or intelligent things in their lives?

Let’s set aside the craziness of that for a moment and try to think positively.

We can look at the bigger picture and wonder how much better some of our sports heroes might be if they had been brought up through a system like Stamford Peace. What if we required these heroes to be great people first? To be good students who appreciate differences, responsible community members that value service, and solid role models for those coming up in the system. And then earn their access to all those elite teams and coaches throughout the youth sports pipeline.

But for now, our priorities might be upside down. Many parents and students prioritize sports success well before education. The goal is often to become a pro athlete or at least snag a college scholarship.

In reality, the odds of either are actually minuscule.

  • The odds of playing professional basketball (for instance) is 0.03%. That’s the same odds being dealt 4 of a kind in the first round of poker. 5
  • Only about 2 percent of high school athletes win sports scholarships every year at NCAA colleges and universities. For those who do snag one, the average scholarship is less than $11,000. That is nowhere near the money that was spent on getting a child through years in the pipeline. 6

That last statistic should put many of us on the floor, given that the average college tuition per year in the U.S. for Public Colleges is $25,290 (in-state) and $40,940 (out-of-state). 7 Spending countless hours on the road to get to faraway rinks, fields, and courts, for a 2% chance at a total of  $11,000, does not sound like common sense.

Those poor odds alone make a very good argument for creating a system that guarantees a balance between sport and academics.

Okay… We all have the most amazing bandwidth for wishful thinking when it comes to our own kids. Let’s not ask anyone to change that. But what if we also knew for certain that in those hours of commitment to youth sports, our kids were getting the tools for a successful life on or off the field? Then, the opportunity there would be priceless! 

This next short passage from an article in the Des Moines Register shows us what makes improving our expectations for the youth sports pipeline especially important: 

By focusing on academics while playing sports in a school setting, students can earn scholarships for academics and other talents – skill sets that are often nurtured while participating in high school activities. These scholarships are more accessible and worth more money than athletic scholarships. While $3 billion per year is available for college athletic scholarships, more than $11 billion is awarded annually in the United States for academic scholarships and other financial assistance. 8

Expanding Opportunites for All!

Stamford Peace has started its own efforts to bring opportunities to student-athletes from one of the most challenging environments on the planet: Haiti. To get us started on this thoughtful journey of potential, take a look at this video:

Wonderful possibilities there! These kids appreciate their good fortune and are making the most of the investment in them.

What if that mindset was at the heart of the whole school-sport system?

Reminds me of one of my favorite Brian Kriftcher quotes from conversations we have had in preparation for this article. Brian likes to tell kids:

“Practice according to your apsirations!”

Ever since Brian threw that one my way, I catch myself looking for that kind of Rigorous Intention work in the world around me. What better way to make sure our actions match our goals and expectations in life.

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Why Should We All Care?

You know how we tend to complain about children becoming less responsible with every passing year; grumbling that they are more interested in their phones than their schoolwork? Well, 45 million of them might have a better shot at reaching their full potential and an entirely different future, if Stamford Peace’s vision becomes the norm.

“In every child who is born, under no matter what circumstances, and no matter what parents, the potentiality of the human race is born again.” — James Agee

What if, from the very beginning, student-athletes were educated to have their character as finely honed as their 3-point shot?

And what if kids (and parents) knew that access to teams and coaching was conditional? Could this influence students to dedicate themselves to becoming an educated, productive, really good person? 

We think that could change the world for all of us.

If you are, or know, a leader in education, coach, parent, or inspired student-athlete, pass this article around. You may be the thought leader who inspires an important evolution in our way of thinking about the potential in youth and sports!

Want to help Brian Kriftcher change the future for children around the world? Stamford Peace has a very detailed contact us page where you can actually connect to real people! Check it out here. (And you can always support the kids with a small donation.)

Stay curious, open and hopeful!

~ Dr. Lynda

How have sports shaped your life?

Share your story with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram! And be sure to tag us! #itsstillanamazingworld

Notes:

  1. Atkinson, Jay. Boston Globe, Boston Globe, 4 May 2014, www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2014/05/03/how-parents-are-ruining-youth-sports/vbRln8qYXkrrNFJcsuvNyM/story.html. Accessed 1 Apr. 2019.
  2. “Youth Team, League, and Tournament Sports Market, 2018-2024 – Worldwide Youth Sports Markets Are Expected to Reach $41.2 Billion by 2023.” GlobeNewswire News Room, “GlobeNewswire”, 5 Sept. 2018, www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2018/09/05/1565501/0/en/Youth-Team-League-and-Tournament-Sports-Market-2018-2024-Worldwide-Youth-Sports-Markets-are-Expected-to-Reach-41-2-Billion-by-2023.html. Accessed 1 Apr. 2019.
  3. Merkel, Donna L. “Youth Sport: Positive and Negative Impact on Young Athletes.” Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, Dove Medical Press, 31 May 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3871410/. Accessed 1 Apr. 2019.
  4. “Stamford Peace Youth Foundation HD.” YouTube, Beyond Limits Academic Program, 15 Nov. 2016, https://youtu.be/Ze1uHktGKik. Accessed 1 Apr. 2019.
  5. Norwich City School District. “ProSports Odds.” Freshman Studies, Norwich City School District, www.norwichcsd.org/FreshmanStudies.aspx.
  6. O’Shaughnessy, Lynn. “8 Things You Should Know about Sports Scholarships.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 20 Sept. 2012, www.cbsnews.com/news/8-things-you-should-know-about-sports-scholarships/. Accessed 1 Apr. 2019.
  7. Miller, Madison. “Average Cost of College in America: 2019 Report.” ValuePenguin, ValuePenguin, 28 Mar. 2019, www.valuepenguin.com/student-loans/average-cost-of-college. Accessed 1 Apr. 2019.
  8. Gardner, Bob, and Alan Beste. “Parents and Athletes: Play Sports for More than a Scholarship.” Des Moines Register, The Des Moines Register, 10 Apr. 2018, www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/iowa-view/2018/04/10/high-school-sports-travel-teams-scholarships-single-sport-athletes/504829002/. Accessed 1 Apr. 2019.
  9. “Reborn and Renewed.” Vimeo, GoodSport, 2018, vimeo.com/254740265. Accessed 1 Apr. 2019.

Dr. Lynda is a dentist, artist, global traveler, and philanthropist who looks for potential and shares it with the world.