When it comes to youth sports, Chris Schulz’s motto is clear and simple: “Play, play, play!”
“Play is not a luxury,” says Schulz, “it is a necessity!”
A 2002 graduate of the School of Kinesiology, Schulz is the founder of Active Kids Association of Sport—AKASPORT, Inc.—a Twin Cities metro nonprofit offering active programs and camps to keep kids well-rounded through sports. Those programs and camps are designed to showcase play, games, and fun, something Schulz believes that kids are missing.
“Our camps provide a lot of fun and a lot of nonstop movement and activity,” Schulz says. “There are always skills and technical exercises provided, but even those are mostly done through fun games and play. It’s all-out play, play, play and games, games, games.
“We can teach kids how to put top spin on a tennis shot and how to better aim to hit the bullseye, but our focus is more on just wanting to get the racket or bow in their hands through fun, engaging play.”
Schulz believes the programming is attacking myriad epidemics that face today’s youth, particularly obesity and overspecialization.
“The kids in our programs don’t even realize they are exercising so much,” he says, “so we are combating the obesity epidemic. Exercise doesn’t have to be forceful—it can be fun.”
Another way AKASPORT camps and programs are addressing the obesity epidemic is by including a nutritional component, Healthy Bites, that provides catered meals for participants. It’s something Schulz says he never imagined would become such a big part of the program.
Coach with a mission
Schulz developed his perspectives on overspecialization in sport through his own involvement in the soccer community. As an undergraduate, he was coaching on the side and a captain of the U’s men’s soccer club. Then something clicked.
“There came a point when I was analyzing the camps and clinics so much that I thought, this is great, but there has got to be something more,” Schulz remembers. “These parents need something more, and these kids for sure need something more. By more I mean a more well-rounded approach. Kids are going to burn out on soccer. AKASPORT is trying to fix that.”
Schulz became a coach with a mission. His approach was formed in conjunction with the well-rounded approach of the School of Kinesiology’s academic program. As one of the first students in the school’s sport studies program (now sport management), Schulz credits the program’s nascency and uniqueness at getting him to where he is today. He mentions kinesiology faculty members including Jo Ann Buysse, Mary Jo Kane, Nicole LaVoi, and Steve Ross as preparing him to launch AKASPORT, Inc, as a 503(c)3 nonprofit in 2004.
“The sport studies program was all very new in 1999,” he recalls. “The loose but varied curriculum allowed me to think outside the box and develop an entrepreneurial spirit.”
That entrepreneurial spirit was tempered by his desire to make lasting change.
“When I started AKASPORT, I wanted to start it as a nonprofit to show this isn’t about making money,” Schulz said. “This is about creating something for the betterment of the people, for the kids, and the community.”
Serving all kids
With the sport camps alone now serving more than 150 kids every day, each week throughout the summer, it’s clear Schulz has created something that is making a difference and that people are noticing. Faculty member Nicole LaVoi is one of them.
“What Chris is doing is exemplary,” she says. “His youth sport programs run counter to the prevalent model of professionalizing youth sport. Chris is a champion of kids. The programming he has put together through AKASPORT is about exposing kids to all forms of physical activity and sport, where they have fun, learn, and build caring relationships with each other and the staff. I couldn’t be more proud of what he is doing.”
And, while there is definitely a sense of pride in what he has accomplished 11 years into his journey with AKASPORT, Schulz continues to see more ways to create community and provide healthy, active opportunities for Minnesota kids.
“We are at a point in the program—10, 11 years in—that we can say affirmatively this is the direction we want to go,” says Schulz. “We are on the right track, but we still need to get to the point for our nonprofit to provide for more kids of a different economic status. We want to provide more scholarships and more programs for those who otherwise can’t afford them.
“All kids deserve sports,” he adds—“and fun.”
Read more about Chris Schultz and AKASPORT, Inc.
Story by Austin Stair Calhoun | June 2015