A few weeks ago in Washington, D.C., I found myself sitting next to Olympic gold medalist Edwin Moses, while Olympian Allison Felix interviewed Mo’ne Davis 15 feet away from me. This was just after hearing a great talk by the surgeon general and seeing a demonstration by freestyle soccer juggler Indi Cowie, who has more than 130,000 followers on Instagram. Several other Olympians, professional athletes, politicians, educators, business executives, philanthropists and authors were also in the room.

I was completely out of my league. But I was so happy to be there representing the sport of lacrosse.

What could possibly bring all of us together in that space, you ask?

Well, the radical idea, of course, that all kids should have the opportunity to play sports and have fun doing it.

We were at the Project Play Summit hosted by the Aspen Institute, an event built around their recently released report, Sport for All, Play for Life: A Playbook to Get Every Kid in the Game. The report is an outgrowth from two years of conversation, research, information gathering and community feedback in an effort to address a growing problem in the United States. Kids are participating in sport in fewer and fewer numbers, and are dropping out of sport earlier and earlier. In general, they are not having the opportunity to engage in healthy, active lifestyles.

The report then outlines eight “plays” or national calls-to-action to provide solutions to a growing epidemic of a physically inactive population.

In some instances, the actions in the report are as simple as “ask kids what they want” (novel idea) and some are a little more challenging, like “train all coaches.” The reality is if everyone involved in youth sports committed to the common-sense recommendations in the report, sports in the United States would look very different, be much healthier, and be more fun in just a few years’ time.

Here’s the good news for lacrosse players, parents, coaches, program leaders—we don’t have to wait.

There are many reasons the sport of lacrosse has thrived in the last decade while participation in most other team sports among kids ages 6-11 has tumbled. US Lacrosse wants to build on this momentum because we love our sport and we love the kids who play it.

Over the coming months, you will see from us new tools, clinics, curriculum, information, guidelines, recommendations, and training, all centered around athlete development. What we mean by “athlete” is anyone with a body, and by “development” we mean what’s right for kids at each stage of their life.

Research tells us that when kids are pushed at the right level for where they’re at emotionally, cognitively and socially, they’re going to thrive and improve, and hopefully that means they will be a lacrosse participant for life.

But beyond all of the programs and tools that will soon be available to the lacrosse community, there is one simple thing we can all do now—make sure our kids are having fun.

Let’s take Project Play to heart and ask our kids what makes lacrosse (and all sports) fun. Let’s stop putting our adult plans into kids’ experiences. Let’s give them unstructured time to goof around with their stick, some friends and a pile of balls.

Let’s play steal the bacon. Let’s come up with the best stick trick or try SportsCenter Top 10 shots. Let’s try to fling a ball as far as we can. Let’s make every drill a mini-competition. Let’s do obstacle courses for conditioning. Let’s reward hard work and effort with dirty t-shirts and Wheaties boxes.

Let’s define play, as Project Play does, as relatively spontaneous, expressive, and unstructured physical activities created for the immediate pleasure of participants. We don’t need some tournament director defining “fun” as jamming eight games into one day and dragging 12-year-olds back out for another round six hours later.

Let’s rise to the challenge put forth by Project Play. Let’s start by keeping it fun.

Erin Smith serves as director of education and training at US Lacrosse, as well as the mother of three kids who are always looking for ways to have fun. Running is allowed in her house.

Positive Coaching Alliance

Looking for more guidance on creating a fun and positive youth sports culture? US Lacrosse and the Positive Coaching Alliance are partners in providing tips for parents, coaches and players.