As the recent headlines declaring Chicago the murder capital of America make clear, our nation’s youth, especially those living in some of our most underserved communities, are facing an epidemic of violence.
We know that most of the crime youth engage in happens after school, when most are not being supervised by their parents. With nearly 85 percent of moms and dads in the workforce, our kids are in the care of someone else for significant portions of the day.
Schools in communities like Chicago with high murder rates are overcrowded and under-funded. After-school programs and extracurricular activities are decreasing under the pressure of budget cuts. Too often, city parks are dangerous and/or inaccessible. That leaves our most vulnerable children open to being influenced and engaged by other children. And without any adult supervision, the consequences of such engagement can easily lead to negative behavior. It’s true, idol hands are the devil’s workshop.
Taking the place of traditional caregivers are the notorious gangs plaguing African-American and Hispanic communities. Gangs are a particularly difficult problem in Chicago. These gangs offer kids a desperately needed sense of belonging, self worth, adventure, and at the very least, distraction from their present circumstances. These gangs also offer kids guns, crime and murder as a destructive pathway forward.
Headlines labeling Chicago the murder capital of the country compel us to advance new and proven solutions to violence in urban America. I believe that this solution involves the constructive “engagement” of our youth. We need to ensure that every child in this nation that is lacking consistent adult direction has at least one adult in their life who can serve as a positive role model to engage him or her. A highly trained coach-mentor can be that adult role model.
Kids look up to their coaches more than almost any other adult, especially when they lack a healthy adult role model. Highly trained coach-mentors know how to use sports to inspire values in youth that include self-discipline, conflict resolution, teamwork, leadership and personal goal setting. Anyone who has ever played sports knows that sports are uniquely capable of providing these skills. And now, a study from the University of Chicago Crime Lab has provided the first scientific evidence that the presence of a coach-mentor can result in a 44 percent decrease in crime. The study was based on a program that used sports as a primary component for engaging youth from urban communities who were at an elevated risk of becoming involved in perpetrating violence. And yet, despite the evidence, too many kids do not have access to a coach they can turn to for support and guidance on the many challenges they face growing up.
We know the problem, and we know the solution. It’s time to act. Corporations should join forces with government in a public-private partnership to support the development of a nationwide workforce of coaches. Supporting such a program would not only effectively address youth violence, but also provide jobs to young adults who are desperately needed to inspire kids in some of our most underserved communities. Every dollar invested in the program can produce more than thirty dollars in savings to society in terms of dollars saved from incarceration and would put thousands of our children on a path to success, rather than prison or the grave.
The social return on investment is enormous. We have a responsibility to act now.
From Chicago to Los Angeles, New York to New Orleans, by providing highly trained coach-mentors, we can create change through sports.
Caccamo is founder and executive director of Up2Us and its signature program Coach Across America, the first national program to challenge young adults to give back to their communities by committing to a year of service coaching at-risk youth.