ESPN Launches Don’t Retire, Kid Campaign Aimed at Increasing Youth Sports Participation

Youth sports participation rates nationwide are in decline and ESPN is addressing the crisis and bringing awareness to the issue by exclusively launching the Don’t Retire, Kidcampaign, in partnership with the Aspen Institute’s Project Play. The goal is to help increase sports participation rates among youth in the United States. In 2018, only 38% of kids aged six to 12 played team sports on a regular basis, down from 45% in 2008, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.

“At ESPN we believe sports should be available to every child,” said Jimmy Pitaro, President of ESPN. “We want to shed light on this important issue so that kids can take advantage of the benefits of sports, from increased health to better outcomes in school. ESPN, together with our league and business partners, have committed to working together to address this issue.”

Content across Platforms

The Don’t Retire, Kid campaign will exclusively launch on ESPN Sunday, Aug. 4, during the 8 a.m. ET SportsCenter with a PSA of a young boy announcing his retirement from sports. The PSA will simultaneously air on ESPN2, ESPNEWS and ESPNU, and will be followed by an interview onSportsCenter with Kobe Bryant, lead spokesperson for the Don’t Retire, Kid initiative. 

According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, girls participate in sports at lower rates than boys, with urban and rural girls dropping out of sports at twice the rate. An additional PSA highlights the fact that 69% of girls do not play team sports on a regular basis. Both PSAs, as well as the campaign creative, were developed by Arnold Worldwide, and will run across ESPN and ABC.

In addition, ESPN networks will air a series of vignettes with sports stars discussing why youth sports are important and addressing the reasons kids are not participating. Featured vignettes include:

  • Kobe Bryant, former NBA star

  • Wayne Gretzky, former NHL star and head coach

  • Sue Bird, WNBA player for Seattle Storm

  • Mookie Betts, right fielder for the Boston Red Sox

  • Sloane Stephens, American professional tennis player

  • Geno Auriemma, head women’s basketball coach of the University of Connecticut

  • Muffet McGraw, Hall of Famer and head women’s basketball coach at Notre Dame

  • Julie Foudy, two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist

ESPN will incorporate campaign messaging and discuss the importance of youth sports during live MLB, Little League World Series and X Games telecasts. Additionally, the network will share youth sports stories across its digital and linear platforms featuring kids, parents and athletes digging into the issues and highlighting success stories. ESPN, ESPN commentators and athletes across multiple sports will also post unique spots on their social handles to discuss the importance of youth involvement in sports with the hashtag #DontRetireKid. 

“In addition to coverage on our media platforms, ESPN also is investing in nonprofit organizations to help break down the barriers to participation, especially for the most vulnerable populations,” said Kevin Martinez, vice president of ESPN Corporate Citizenship. “This initiative is part of ESPN’s Access to Sports program, which has already enabled over 1.4 million people to participate. We will continue to invest in youth sports programming so that everyone can keep playing.”

Don’t Retire, Kid

The Don’t Retire, Kid campaign is part of the Aspen Institute’s Project Play 2020. ESPN alongside a consortium of 20 organizations have aligned their missions to help combat attrition rates among youth. To learn more about the initiative and organizations involved, please visit

“Parents are the game-changers in youth sports,” said Tom Farrey, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program. “To keep kids playing longer, we need to help parents ask the right questions of themselves, their child, and their local sport providers. I commend the organizations at the center of Project Play 2020 for showing the leadership to keep sport in the lives of more children.”

Resources are available on, where parents can find a host of resources to help them navigate the often confusing and frustrating world of youth sports. Among them: Project Play’s playbook with eight strategies to keep kids in the game; how to find the right sport based on health benefits and risks; free online training on how to coach kids more effectively; and checklists for parents based on a child’s age and activity level.  

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