Losing Beats Winning: Social Service Model Uses Sports To Elevate Health For Refugee Community

In our 20-year study of parent and teen behavior we have tracked the experiences and outcomes of 1,362 families from poorer inner cities to those in more affluent suburban communities. We uncovered the impact of decisions about youth sports, the value of sports to lower income families, refugee communities, and the downside of sports when families use it in the wrong way. When it becomes an obsession, not a gift. The study and outcomes vary by family demographic, income, size of family, and even geography. The earliest lessons learned from the study helped in forming a network of sports, health and educational services for refugee families. More broadly, the outcomes we have uncovered over two decades reveal the cost of youth sports and a significant disconnect not just in access to sports but in its ability to impact the total cost of healthcare. We found both positive and negative effects – such as families whose access to sports allowed their teens an opportunity to lead their family out of poverty, and an unfortunate rise in depression, eating disorders, and addiction in the wake of sports failures.

Contact us (at bcote@thinkbrg.com) or see below to provide your information if interested in receiving the outcomes study primer.


Study findings don’t just provide insight into the cost of youth sports but recommendations for families and an outcomes-based model for communities and educators, health systems, health insurers, and employers.

On the downside, nearly two thirds said at least one of their kids stopped playing high school sports and nearly half say this led to things like depression, weight gain, addiction to drugs, or social-isolation.

91% blame coaches, few blame themselves. A vast majority increasingly looked to sports as a solution ‘to help pay for college,’ but also for many as a treatment or an outlet to balance social and academic pressures. Most have found some measure of success in youth programs but have also found themselves dealing with crisis as early as 7th grade when sports coaches or programs miss the point.

On the positive side, in communities that use sports as part of a broader overall health plan for teens or populations of families with economic challenges, we found the value of the right type of youth sports programs is significant. Rising GPAs, acceptance to private colleges, teens coming back to these communities as doctors, teachers and civic leaders is the outcome from the 10-year program called the Migrant Family Health Network.

52% said there is significant variability at the youth level in quality of experience, and interestingly more kids in so-called elite sports programs suffer addiction or depression or eating disorders by the time they hit high school, parents reported, compared to those who were in so-called ‘rec’ programs for presumably lower skilled players. This is not all that surprising if you think about the message of elite or travel programs that push kids to dedicate more of their time to a team, to a single sport, to winning. At age 10 or 12 or 14. There are other gaps – particularly for kids on the autism spectrum, definitely for inner city youth, and somewhat quietly for high schoolers who are either pushed too hard and end up injured or end up on the bench or cut from a team and a sport they have played for a decade. The dropoff at the high-school level can be mitigated to some degree by engaged parents, counselors advised.

About The Losing Beats Winning Study

Unofficially launched in 1999, has tracked parent experience and response to a host of challenges raising kids after Columbine. Parents from diverse communities were followed – from cities like Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, to rural areas in states like Kentucky and Texas and Iowa, to colder climates like Hartford and warmer ones like Atlanta. The perspectives vary to some degree by economic situation and access to sports, but the experiences and outcomes do not. The health outcomes collected over the 20-year-period suggest for all the gains around increasing physical health and activity in the US, there is a great deal still to do. If nothing else, the study is a window into how we as parents think and sometimes change behavior over time, but sometimes fall back into old habits, especially in our enthusiasm and sometimes misguided or misinformed optimism over sports.

Click here to see a snapshot of the views from the study from a subset of families tracked: ParentOutcomesPoll

The full study and outcomes have been developed by The Behavioral Health Hour. Publication targeted for Fall 2020. For questions, write bcote@thinkbrg.com or call 860.712.8960.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s