Policy Matters is a quarterly series of reports that provide timely research and guidance on issues that are of concern to policymakers at the local, state, and national levels.

Volume 3, Issue 1 by Scott Brooks is entitled: Making Basketball Work: Ensuring Success in Youth Development Programs.


Executive Summary

Youth development programs (YDPs) are important policy tools for local and federal governments. Typically, sports form the centerpiece of these youth programs in inner-city poor communities. The hope is that sports participation mitigates school truancy and dropouts, juvenile violence, delinquency, and gang participation. Most studies of YDPs examine characteristics such as levels of engagement and time commitment, and simply assume that participation in “positive” activities decreases or eliminates engagement in other “negative” activities.

The benefits of Midnight Basketball leagues have recently come under scrutiny after early reports crowned them a success. Studies suggest that the success of sport-based social interventions depend on the strength of its nonsport components. These components include: the development and use of local resources to nurture cultural and social niches; the creation of synergies and status associated with the activity; and the engagement of residents from different generations. Thus, customized YDPs can indeed have noticeable impacts if they involve more than simply the primary activity.

I have coached youth basketball in Philadelphia for nearly a decade, and have spent the last two years as a basketball coach for a Riverside, California public high school. This report presents a case study on Philadelphia. Philadelphia is a good example of social organization that considers, and takes advantage of, its particular infrastructure. Basketball programs are effective because basketball matters in Philadelphia. There are plenty of adults who want to get involved and who know something about basketball. The case of Philadelphia highlights more general points and best practices for city-level YDPs. Put simply, a city or region needs to “use what it has, to get what it wants.” This means knowing itself, realizing what it is good at or can be good at, identifying resources, and finding ways to involve its residents at different levels, and in varied roles to build successful YDPs.

Scott Brooks is Assistant Professor of Sociology at UC Riverside. His research interests include urban sociology, race and ethnicity, and the sociology of sport. He is the author of Black Men Can’t Shoot (University of Chicago Press, 2009). Scott can be reached by email scott.brooks@ucr.edu or by phone at (951) 827-5618.