Sport for All Makes Us More Fully Human

The time has come to go beyond the status quo of who gets to participate in sport. Let's envision every sport, recreation and physical activity program in the U.S. and worldwide as an opportunity for inclusion, for participation by those on the margins. Do that, and lives everywhere will be enhanced.

Sport may be a form of entertainment and a growing industry, but we have not even reached the beginning of where sport can take us. So much more is yet to be realized. Using limitless ways to re-define, re-think and re-imagine sport can create and foster community and unite people through an ethos of sport for all.

An inclusive mindset is pivotal in realizing the power of this vision. It helps unlock the limitless potential and opportunities to use sport as a catalyst for bringing people together, to foster good through sport, and to innovate and create in new and dynamic ways.

An inclusive mindset is proactive. It is willing to explore and risk. It finds ways to innovate, and to welcome, embrace and celebrate those who may typically exist at the margins - including children with different physical and intellectual abilities. If we can move them in from the fringes, we can recreate the center of sports, with benefits for all. Inclusion as a core value makes our lives more meaningful when everyone is fully involved, accepted, and respected.

Sport for all is exciting, welcoming, and fun. It engages everyone to move, play, and compete together with people of a panoply of backgrounds, ages, and abilities. Sport for all inspires powerful creativity, passion, and commitment and helps foster a thriving community that derives benefits from sport and physical activity both on and off the field.

The power of sport for all is an approach to leadership that helps us envision the future landscape of sport. We need to educate and develop sport for all leaders, sport for all communities and the sport for all movement in every city, state, province, and country. This movement has the strength to change the way we think about difference and move from tolerance to enthusiasm. We can shape the future of sport and physical activity as a defining condition of healthy communities.

One may wonder about the cost of implementing such an inclusive program. To that we would ask, what is the cost of silent voices, lost human potential? What is the cost of knowledge gaps because innovative ideas were left lying fallow in a rural field? What if Stephen Hawking were born in a refugee camp or Einstein lived in a slum? Can we put a cost on lost ideas and discoveries?

Sport for all brings everyone to the table where different voices can sing the song of inclusion while contributing their own unique harmonies. An orchestra with no rhythm section has not reached its full potential. Sport for all opens up the possibilities to make all people more fully human and make humanity more fully alive and capable of acting together.

We cannot afford not to act. The cost is the untenable burden of lives of dependence and care, rather than participation and contribution.

Hopefully this call to action for a power of sport for all movement inspires dialogue and action. Hopefully we can reflect on the future of sport and how we engage with and utilize sport and physical activity in communities around the world. Hopefully we can consider how a sport for all approach could contribute to a new definition of sport and a better world for all of us who work and advocate for positive outcomes and stronger communities.

Eli Wolff is the program director of the Inclusive Sports Initiative at the Institute for Human Centered Design, and also directs the Disability Sport Education Program at the University of Illinois and the Sport and Development Project at Brown University. Follow Eli Wolff on Twitter.

Dr. Mary Hums is Professor of Sport Administration at the University of Louisville and Research Fellow with the Inclusive Sports Initiative at the Institute for Human Centered Design. Follow Dr. Mary Hums on Twitter.

They were invited to contribute this essay as part of the dialogue within the Aspen Institute's Project Play, a thought leadership initiative that aims to identify breakthrough strategies to get and keep more children active and healthy through sports.