Reflections on the 2020–2021 PCSFN Science Board

By Brad Cardinal, PhD, 2020-2021 PCSFN Science Board Chair

If the past 2 years have taught us anything, it’s that health and well-being are multifaceted. One of the greatest ways to impact health in a variety of domains is through physical activity and sports participation. It has been my great pleasure to serve as Chair of the 2020–2021 Science Board subcommittee of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition, a group of academic and medical experts charged with providing scientific guidance to the Council.

The 2020–2021 Science Board was recruited to support the Council in its understanding of the science of youth sports as part of the implementation of the National Youth Sports Strategy. When we began our work in January 2020, we had no idea that the youth sports system would undergo such disruption because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This interruption brought the disparities in youth sports access and participation into the spotlight, underscoring the importance of working toward the National Youth Sports Strategy vision: that one day, all youth will have the opportunity, motivation, and access to play sports.

2020–2021 Science Board Accomplishments

When done right, youth sports can promote positive cognitive, emotional, physical, and social development. Regrettably, there is a lot of “noise” in the youth sports space, and with the developmental needs of youth varying considerably, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach.

With this in mind, the 2020–2021 Science Board synthesized youth sports research into 4 primary documents. These documents are evidence-rich resources that public health and physical activity professionals can use to support their work and share with others. They also offer practical recommendations for strategies and tactics to improve the youth sports experience for all.

The Report on Youth Sports highlights the science behind:

  • Making youth sports accessible
  • Optimizing the youth sports experience
  • Parenting, coaching, and mentoring
  • Fostering lifelong participation and retention in sports

The Benefits of Youth Sports fact sheet summarizes the science on the benefits of youth sports related to 5 domains:

  • Mental, emotional, and social health
  • Physical health
  • Educational and career success
  • Lifelong participation
  • Economic and community impact

Reimagining the Youth Sport System Across the United States: A Commentary from the 2020–2021 President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition Science Board proposes a set of changes across multiple levels of influence (e.g., individual, family, school, organization) that could cultivate a more developmentally sound youth sport system.

Re-envisioning Post-pandemic Youth Sport to Meet Young People’s Mental, Emotional, and Social Needs presents 10 recommendations and 10 innovative, actionable takeaways for how to prioritize mental, emotional, and social health in youth sports.

Looking Ahead

The U.S. Surgeon General recently issued an advisory on youth mental health highlighting the urgent need to address the nation’s youth mental health crisis. This advisory report reinforces the importance of the 2020–2021 Science Board resources and commentaries, which include guidance on how to support youth mental health through sports. Additionally, with the Council’s renewed focus on mental health, the 2020–2021 Science Board resources provide a robust, scientifically backed foundation for communicating the link between mental health and youth sports.   

The Science Board will remain a vital part of the Council’s work in promoting sports, fitness, and nutrition. As I pass the baton to the 2022 Science Board, I look forward to following their work, which will focus on physical activity in older adults.

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