Youth Development

We believe that teaching youth to develop into healthy, productive and empowered individuals is an important venture. Our team specializes in teaching important life principles through sport in a variety of youth development settings, including after-school programs, summer camps and juvenile detention centers. We also train coaches and youth workers to use these best practices in their own work.

After School Programs

For the past eight years, we have partnered with local middle schools by providing a variety of after-school programs to their students:

  • Project Leadership (2013-2016): Our faculty and graduate students shared a variety of sports and life skills teaching to support male students.
  • She Hits Hard (2018-2020): Our faculty and graduate students ran a boxing body empowerment club to support female students.
  • Online yoga (during the COVID-19 pandemic): Our faculty and students offered an after-school online yoga program for girls.

These programs provide direct service to students and schools. They also provide research and training opportunities to NIU students like Reina Ashley and Brittany Williams, who volunteer with us.

Summer Camp

Camp Play-A-Lot is a summer camp leadership program for youth from the northern part of Chicago. The camp's mission is to use the power of play to empower youth through teaching life skills and building high-quality relationships. It uses an evidence-based curriculum that translates into fun ways to build personal and social skills. Learn more about Camp Play-A-Lot:

Juvenile Detention Centers

Incarcerated youth can be very isolated. The mission of Project FLEX is to engage these youth in positive sport programs that teach leadership, life skills and healthy fitness behaviors for life after prison. FLEX has three main programs: a group sports program (FLEX), a one-on-one personal training mentoring program (Swole Patrol) and a college exposure program (CREW). Learn more about Project FLEX:

Research and Evaluation

Because of our team’s strong reputation and high profile, we are often asked to support community-based programs through consulting and evaluation. Chicago-area partners include Beyond the Ball and the Chicago Fire P.L.A.Y.S. program. At the national level, our executive director, Paul Wright, serves on the research council for the Laureus Foundation, one of the most influential organizations in the field.

Our team also publishes widely on sport-based youth development. See selected publications.
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