GENYOUth Foundation CEO: Flag football drive a 'game-changer'

By Bill Bradley, contributing editor

The NFL on Wednesday announced a ground-breaking partnership with school districts and recreational centers that will put provide a curriculum, equipment and a game plan to get kids moving. And it's all based around football. Flag football that is.

The league will work with the GENYOUth Foundation -- the same group that helps to create the NFL's Fuel Up To PLAY 60 program -- and USA Football to bring flag football programs to six school districts around the country this month as part of a pilot program for 2014.

At the forefront of the program is Alexis Glick, the GENYOUth CEO who is better known for her work in the finance world and in broadcast journalism. Her media work has ranged from stops at "Good Morning America" and CNN, and she helped to create the Fox News Channel.

Glick talked to NFL Evolution on Tuesday about how she transitioned from broadcast news to youth programs, the FLAG football initiative and some startling numbers about physical education in U.S. schools.

You have a background in finance and broadcast journalism? How did you get involved in Fuel Up for 60 program and the GENYOUth Foundation?

I was recruited to join the board of directors in part because of my Wall Street and media experience. I went in to meet with them about the program and all of the great things that they were starting to do in schools. I walked back out of the office and they said, "We want to have another conversation." Within about 10 days they said, "Would you be the CEO? Would you run this?" It caught us all by surprise, but as some of the executives and (former NFL coach) Mike Sherman and the Commissioner (Roger Goodell) can attest ... I'm a huge sports fanatic and I have had a lot of relationships with different owners of clubs. I had some great recommendations and fun ideas that we could do with the program. I think that's what perhaps led them to say, "Would you possibly run it?"

What appealed to you about the Foundation and its Fuel Up For 60 program?

The thing I love most about our program is that we're impacting 38 million kids a day. Kids are in a school building 180 days a year. For someone who has studied the economy for the majority of my career, there is no greater need than in our nation's schools. They have a desperate need of resources. We often call it "time, talent and treasure," but they're strapped and they have a lot of competing barriers. I think if you look at most schools in municipalities, one of the first things that gets cut is the physical activity and the daily P.E. and then it's healthy foods and healthy options. To me, there's nothing I feel more passionate about than helping the next generation. Being able to do that is something I absolutely love.

What is the "elevator speech" to explain your program's mission?

Our mission is to create an environment for kids to excel and to be healthy, high-achieving students. The way we do that is in the school building, with Fuel Up To PLAY 60, by giving kids access to healthier options as those led by the USDA and giving them 60 minutes of physical activity a day before, during and after school.

It sounds like there's more than activity to your program; nutrition is big, too. How big of a role does nutrition play in raising your four kids as well as with Fuel Up To PLAY 60?

I'm deeply passionate about it. As a mother, it is hard not to be passionate about what my kids are doing, to be physically active and to make sure that they're eating healthy. The thing that I have learned about working in this field that I didn't know as a mother is that there is a direct link -- we call it the learning connection -- between eating healthy and being active to academic performance, behavior, attendance and other issues. To me as a mother, to understand the scientific benefits that I could be doing something to help them be better students and lead a healthier lifestyle, it's a no-brainer.

The NFL announced Wednesday its involvement with your foundation for FLAG football initiative, sponsoring 500,000 kids in six pilot school districts with a physical activity curriculum. Can you elaborate on this?

This a game changer. The opportunities for kids ... who now have a chance to get the much-needed resources for training and financial help to be physically active and to play a sport. ... It's a tremendous opportunity, not only for us to address the fact kids are physically inactive, but that only four percent of elementary students today have daily P.E., eight percent in middle school and three percent in high school. Schools need our help to provide a curriculum, and to provide these resources that can get kids more active on a daily basis through the NFL. It is exactly what we need to be doing. Frankly, I do think it's a game changer.

Why was the sport of flag football picked to lead this change in school physical education?

Flag football was picked for a variety of reasons. It's the perfect avenue for kids starting in the elementary schools. They're learning more and more about their refined motor and development skills, like running, jumping, moving and playing. The game itself doesn't require an enormous amount of equipment. You can do the footballs. You can do the flags. You can play it in the gymnasium. You can play it outdoors. You can play it at recess. You can play it before, during or after school. And the thing I love about the sport is that it is equally fun for girls as it is for boys. In fact, as we've spent the past couple of months studying for the rollout, I've seen stories of girls who are playing at the highest level in the game. In the process of investigating this, my mother pulled out a card I had written for my grandfather when I was 10 years old and it was all about me telling my grandfather how excited I was to be playing football at recess with the guys. ... It's a great sport and I think it's a sport a lot of kids will want to play once they have the access to it.

What was the origin of this flag football initiative?

Our partnership with the NFL on PLAY 60 has been in place for well over five years. In fact, we just renewed our five-year commitment to the NFL last December. We have been working as a staff to get kids active for 60 minutes a day. As part and parcel of what we give schools in terms of tools and resources, they get in essence a playbook of options and activities that they can offer in the school building that address both nutrition and school activity. We have a play folder for flag football, but we had never really put the resources, energy or the commitment behind it. As we started to talk about it -- and I think the Commissioner and others witnessed it -- some of the most influential leaders in some of the larger school districts that we work with voiced their desire for not just dollars but gym resources. I think it became more and more apparent to the (NFL) that they've got a sport that could be adopted inside the school building in a natural way. Let's build a curriculum that P.E. teachers can use.

If I can date back to these discussions three or four months, we did our homework. We looked at some of the largest school districts in the country. We looked at this on a national level. We thought about what existed and what didn't exist. What are the biggest barriers to physical activity? What are the biggest issues in terms of P.E. curriculum? ... We vetted it with different school districts around the country to ensure that we built something that they were comfortable with and kids could really own.

Some pretty big name quarterbacks, like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, played flag football before they played tackled football in high school and John Madden has come out in favor of it for kids. Why do think this version of the game hasn't become more widespread?

We're about to launch a campaign called, "For the love of play." I think somewhere in our specialization in sports and in our focus on academic performance and standardized tests, we forgot to go back to these sports that we love and we used to be able to play in our playgrounds or in our parks. We live in a world today where 25 percent of kids play outdoors. Twenty years ago, that was 75 percent. Circumstances, some of which have to do with the school buildings or safety in communities, have really changed the way we look at sports. This gives us the opportunity to get back to our love and passion for the game. I feel like starting in the school building is a natural. How great is it that we have the ability to build curriculum that can help kids establish that love of the game? When I think back on when I played flag football, it's exhilarating, it's fun, it's team-building. You're learning about the game and you're learning about winning and losing. When you look at how many NFL fans there are today -- particularly in the youth demographic with many of those kids in our schools -- why not give them an outlet and a way to play the game that we all love?

What are the expectations for this FLAG program?

This is a pilot year going into the school year. We're focusing on six of the largest school districts in the country and we're expanding it out nationally. Not only will we announce the six districts, but we will launch a national play, where schools from across the country can apply in to get these resources and training. As far as I'm concerned, the sky is the limit. (GENYOUth Foundation) is in 73,000 schools. We reach 38 million kids a day. This is the beginning. We're focusing on 500,000 kids, but if we're successful, hopefully we can focus on many more.

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