Project Play: Southeast Michigan is driven and funded by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation’s Youth Sports & Recreation focus area in partnership with the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program. Project Play: Southeast Michigan serves seven counties in the region: Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw, St. Clair, Monroe and Livingston.

Our Mission

Research has shown that active children go on to live happier, healthier and more successful lives. Project Play: Southeast Michigan envisions a community in which all children have the opportunity to be active through sports—and to live their best lives.

Every child—regardless of location, income or ability—should have access to fun and fulfilling physical activities. Our goal? For every child in America to have the ability, confidence and desire to be physically active for life.

Our Framework

Project Play: Southeast Michigan is modeled after Project Play’s “Eight Plays.” These are eight strategies identified by the Aspen Institute to help children become—and stay—physically active through sports.

Nine out of ten kids say “fun” is the main reason they want to play sports. So, there’s really only one question: “What sounds like fun?”

Children who spend more time in less structured activities are generally better equipped to set their own goals and take action on them. Those children also display higher levels of academic creativity as college students.

By providing more athletic opportunities to children, we can increase the probability they will find a sport they enjoy. That improves the chances they will continue to play sports throughout their lives.

Travel teams often add complexity and cost to sports. That doesn’t translate to success or satisfaction for the children who participate in them. The answer? In-town leagues.

Sprawling mega-sports complexes are all the rage in suburbia, but for most kids, a quality play space can also be a simple, cost-effective one. In urban areas, this could mean finding modest spaces to develop into mini-fields. These locations are easier to find and can be developed for as little as $15,000. A full-sized turf field can cost as much as $1 million.

We need to accept that kids are not miniature adults. They deserve an experience that recognizes their mental, emotional and physical stages of development, and builds on them. The goal should be to improve, not to win. Games and drills with small teams lead to more individual chances to touch the ball and build key skills. This allows children to develop in their sports as they develop in their bodies.

A coach can develop a lifelong athlete – or destroy a child’s love for sports.

  • In one study, only 5% of kids who played for a trained coach quit the next year. That number jumped to 26% for untrained coaches.

We must increase the number of credentialed coaches in the U.S. At minimum, they should be trained in:

  • Coaching philosophy on how to work with kids
  • Best practices in the areas of physical literacy and sport skills
  • Basic safety

Nine out of ten parents have safety concerns, especially regarding concussions. Youth sports should produce positive health outcomes. Therefore, policies and rule changes that eliminate or greatly reduce head contact for kids 12 & under should be introduced.

Our Challenge

For the initial rollout of Project Play: Southeast Michigan, we have chosen three “plays” to focus on:

  1. 1. Reintroduce Free Play
  2. 2. Encourage More Sport Sampling
  3. 3. Train All Coaches

State of Play SEM Report

To better understand the state of youth sports in our communities, the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation commissioned three regional studies by the Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society Program. Out of that research, Project Play was born.

Read the report

State of Play Video

The research that came out of State of Play was eye-opening. It gave us tremendous insight into how we can shift the state of youth sports in Western New York and Southeast Michigan and help shape the futures of our children and our communities. Watch the video:

Watch the video

Project Play Playbook

Drawing from insights from over 300 thought leaders, this report dives into eight strategies on how to help children through age 12 become active and stay active through sports.

Learn more

Parent Checklist

The first and most important leader in the life of a child is the parent. So we created checklists with 10 questions that parents and caregivers can use to help build an athlete for life. We offer three checklists based on the age of your child and whether or not they currently play sports:

– Kids Ages 0-5 Playing Sports

– Kids Ages 6-12 Playing Sports

– Kids Ages 6-12 Not Playing Sports

Learn more

New ‘SportPort’ Equipment Sharing Program Launches to Give Kids More Opportunities to Play

Project Play: Southeast Michigan is supporting the establishment and operation of a pilot program called “SportPort,” a sports equipment sharing program in southeast Michigan. Through both stationary and mobile partners throughout the region, SportPort will provide access to equipment for sports, such as baseball, basketball, tennis, hockey and more.

Learn More

Ten Charts That Show Progress, Challenges to Fix Youth Sports

Learn how the national landscape of youth sports is changing. Recently, Project Play released its annual findings in a series of ten charts. From those findings, we can gain a deeper understanding of the progress we’ve made and what we can do to keep it going strong.

Learn more

Beyond a Level Playing Field

One of the important topics that will be discussed at the 2018 Project Play Summit, hosted by the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program, is mixed-gender youth sports. Read as three Olympic athletes give their thoughts on mixed-gender competition and how it could improve sports and reframe the way our culture thinks about gender.

Learn more

Find the Best Sport for You: Aspen Institute Releases First Tool to Assess Health Benefits of High School Sports

The right sport can make all the difference for our children. And now, finding it is easier than ever. Combining the best available data and expert analysis, the Healthy Sports Index is the first tool to help parents and children assess the health benefits and risks of the ten most popular sports.

Learn more

Katie Brisson


Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan


Sarah Baltman Wedepohl


Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan


Antoine D. Jackson


Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan


Tom Farrey

Executive Director

Aspen Institute Sports and Society Program


Martin Fox

Project Coordinator

Aspen Institute Sports and Society Program


Jim Boyle

Vice President, Programs and Communications

Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation


Malia Xie

Program Officer

Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation

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We want to hear from you. Email us at [email protected] or call us at 313-961-6675.