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Nike's VP of Social & Community Impact on Creating Communities of Play

Naomi Osaka’s Play Academy, a grassroots sports initiative designed for young girls, is expanding into Los Angeles and Haiti. It's an integral part of Made To Play, Nike's global commitment to getting kids moving, where we work with local partners to increase kids' participation in sport – particularly in marginalized communities.

The expansion means that more young girls across the world, and especially among Black, Asian and Latino communities, get to experience the delight of play, a shared language through which groups of kids can connect, learn, grow and simply be, as they are. When communities are grounded in a liberal and generous sense of play, the presence is undeniable. These play communities are known not by their selectivity, but an inclusive, invisible magic.

Play New Los Angeles 3

Following Play Academy’s expansion and the launch of Play New, Caitlin Morris, Nike VP, Social & Community Impact, describes what today’s cities of play look like across backyards, state lines and continents.

Cities of Play Connect Us

One of the things we all crave in this world is connection. Naomi has this ability to connect authentically in multiple places at once, whether that’s Japan, LA or Haiti. With Naomi at the center, these places become more deeply connected to play, bringing together young girls from different backgrounds, cultures and languages. The hope is that someday girls from different Play Academies will connect and identify with one another through a shared experience of play. I can imagine the conversation, "Oh, you did that in Japan? I did that in LA, too." That ability for girls to connect with each other can be life-changing.

Cities of Play Reorient Us

Something’s happened over the last few years, and maybe it was expedited by the pandemic, but at some point, we’ve lost our collective grounding of the word “play.” When I think of Play Academy, I think it’s Nike working to take the word play back into the physical space and bring that joy in movement. Because all kids love to move when they start. It’s innate. If you’ve ever seen a two or three-year-old, they're motion machines. And what happens is they go through life and may get signals that tell them that sport isn't for them. Whether it's because they didn't build their physical literacy soon enough and so they're weeded out early because they don't have the skills, or they had the skill, but they had a coach who didn't create a fun and inclusive environment and now they're turned off. Whatever it is, that joyful feeling around sport and movement is hardwired into us. Play Academy is one way we protect it, preserve it and advance it.

Cities of Play Defy Categorization

What does a city of play look like? The city of play celebrates the kids playing hoops in their driveway or at the neighborhood court as much as it does what's going on in the professional stadium. I don't drive as hard of a distinction between the world of play versus the world of sport because I think the world of sport needs to reflect more play. It’s about finding those reasons for being in sport that aren't about winning or even in structure, but about the lessons that play can teach you, like creativity and connection.

Cities of Play Are Inclusive

An active next generation means a healthier and more equitable future, with all kids – regardless of background, gender identity, ability or aspiration – finding room in their lives to play. That’s why cities of play are all supportive of basic principles that foster inclusion. One, we focus on the kids' experiences of sport, not the outcomes. Two, we invest in training coaches to deliver positive experiences, not just the Xs and Os of the sport we're trying to teach. And three, we prioritize it, because play and sport participation still tends to be an issue that people think they'll get to another day. Well, the days are adding up to years. We have a chance to support this generation or we risk losing them. As long as we're sharing the same vision about what sport should mean for all kids, it suggests that we all believe in helping them get there. Play is an urgent issue of our time – and we can work together to address it. Globally, only 1 in 5 kids gets the physical activity they need to thrive. And we can work together to address it.

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