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State of Play: Western New York

About The Study

Led by the Aspen Institute's Sports & Society Program, State of Play: Western New York is a comprehensive study about youth sports in the eight counties of Western New York. It was commissioned by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation in partnership with the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and compiled the insights, expertise and feedback of a local task force of youth sports leaders and practitioners after an eight-month research process.

The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation also sponsored studies in southeast Michigan and the Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes region. For more information about the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation and its commitment to youth sports, click here.

The Plays

More than 1,000 local adults and youth informed the report through interviews, roundtable discussions, focus groups and surveys. The Aspen Institute analyzed the region through its existing framework of eight strategies, or “plays,” designed to increase sport participation with urban, suburban and rural youth.

8 Plays

Ask Kids What They Want

Reintroduce Free Play

Encourage Sports Sampling

Revitalize In-Town Leagues

Think Small

Design for Development

Train All Coaches

Emphasize Prevention

The Findings

State of Play: Western New York resulted in more than forty findings about the status of youth sports in the region. Highlights include:

Not Enough Kids Active at a Healthy Level
* While 84 percent of parents believe it’s important to have their children regularly involved in sports, only 16 percent of youth across Western New York are physically active one hour a day, the level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s About More than Sports
* A Johns Hopkins University analysis projects that if stakeholders in the region can get and keep just 25 percent of youth active daily, 7,488 fewer youth would be overweight and obese, saving the region more than $262 million in direct medical costs and workplace productivity losses.

Where Have the Neighborhood Games Gone?
* The sports experience has changed dramatically over the last generation or so, with children participating in fewer sports and activities near their homes. Casual/pick-up play has become far less common, with more youth primarily playing in organized team settings.

Many bright spots, but we can do better
* The Western New York region deserves a C+ in getting kids active through sports, according to an online survey of youth sport providers and other stakeholders. The grade aligns with research by the Aspen Institute, which found many innovative organizations and grassroots champions dedicated to youth, but also gaps in program access, especially in low-income and rural areas.

The Recommendations

  • Invest in more and better parks
  • Build indoor complex in Buffalo
  • Engage more racially diverse leaders
  • Turn college athletes into youth coaches
  • Educate and empower parents

About the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo

The Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, a 501 ©(3) organization, was established in 1919 to enhance and encourage long-term philanthropy in the Western New York community. The Foundation’s mission is: Connecting people, ideas and resources to improve lives in Western New York. For nearly 100 years, the Community Foundation has made the most of the generosity of individuals, families, foundations and organizations who entrust charitable assets to its care.

About the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation

The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation is a grantmaking organization dedicated primarily to sustained investment in the quality of life of the people of Southeast Michigan and Western New York. The two areas reflect Ralph C. Wilson, Jr.’s devotion to his hometown of Detroit and greater Buffalo, home of his Buffalo Bills franchise. Prior to his passing in 2014, Mr. Wilson requested that a significant share of his estate be used to continue a life-long generosity of spirit by funding the Foundation that bears his name. The Foundation has a grantmaking capacity of $1.2 billion over a 20-year period, which expires January 8, 2035. This structure is consistent with Mr. Wilson’s desire for the Foundation’s impact to be immediate, substantial, measurable and overseen by those who knew him best. For more information visit

About the Aspen Institute

The Aspen Institute is a nonpartisan forum for values-based leadership and the exchange of ideas. Based in Washington, DC, the Institute also has campuses in Aspen, CO, and on the Wye River in eastern Maryland, and maintains offices in New York City and several other cities.

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