For sport to be a mechanism for social change, our sports organizations need to connect

Reflections on the Kansas City Play for Tomorrow Sport Hackathon

Airplane shot. Our team en route to Kansas City, really excited! From the left: Alicia, James, Antinio, Yi-An
“The most important message we can send is unity. We’re in this together”.

Dear community sports organizations,

You are the heart and soul of exciting, dynamic, inclusive, affordable, and physically engaging sports programming. You have applied countless hours and immeasurable effort into breathing life into your organization. Your volunteers are engaging and enthusiastic, the kids are learning and becoming more physically literate, and their parents are happy. Your city is so lucky to have an unbelievable program run by passionate and dedicated people.

Try this. Type in any combination of key words into Google, relevant to your organization, like, “free soccer program, youth, Kansas City” and see what Google comes up with.

Increasing visibility. Simplifying outreach, registration, and communication

I used that Google search engine practice to see if the free kids soccer program that myself and an amazing group of volunteers run in Toronto, shows up. To my dismay, it does not, no matter how many combinations of keywords I use. We recently received funding to expand and operate on a second night of the week, thus serving more underserved children. The biggest challenge we are facing does not have to do with safety, or parent’s crazy schedules, or equipment, or volunteer recruitment, or even funding. Our challenge is increasing awareness of our program so that children (specifically, more girls) can find it and join! How do we do this when we are not even searchable?

Leveling the playing field for community organizations

Let’s take a closer look at this, through the lens of the innovative solutions designed at a three-city sport for social change hackathon called Play for Tomorrow that we, OpenSports, recently attended. To review what a “hackathon” is, I welcome you to read here.

Play for Tomorrow

Sports Community and Entrepreneurs Work Together for Social Change at the Play for Tomorrow Hackathon. Video from the KCPT.

Friday. On the first night of this event, we were all strangers (except our OpenSports team who came as a pre-assembled team). This unique group of strangers comprised ex-professional athletes, entrepreneurs, educators, people who work in the community —as directors and volunteers within community based organizations — and even students. We were all presented with a problem statement:

Play teaches kids and youth how to move, think, smile, and share. Using the impact of sports and emerging technologies, design and build the future of play. How will your new products or services answer physical literacy, education, mental wellness, and/or social inclusion while encouraging children to play?

Saturday. It was time to start finding others to work with, forming teams, and designing solutions through collaboration and design thinking. Saturday was truly an amazing day of inspiration, design thinking, new friendships, copious amounts of food, wall sits and push ups, a little bit of beer, and an all nighter for us. We welcomed a few new members to our OpenSports “KC” team, and are incredibly grateful to have met Amanda from Mattie Rhodes. This is a relationship that continues to blossom, and a true testament to the importance of spontaneity, open-mindedness, and collaboration!

Sunday. Pitch day, when the juicy innovations were revealed. By Sunday, we were no longer a large group of strangers, but rather, a community of thought leaders and knowledge sharers. Although we were split into six teams, it was clear that we were all on the same page, and all rooting for each other. There were three $25k prizes at stake.

Let’s have a quick run through of the top two solutions, and prize winners, from Play for Tomorrow’s Kansas City competition:

OpenSports KC:

Want to find a baseball program on weekday nights between 6–8pm for your 7 year old son and a basketball program for your 8 year old daughter?

OpenSports uses tech and innovation to connect the two main players: the kids who need the sports, and the community organizations who provide the sports. Families will be able to find all relevant community programs in their area, and kids will have the ability to participate in the sports that interest them, right away. Program listings are based on location and interest, as well as other criteria like age and gender, from community organizations that are vetted and safe.

Beyond the connectivity part, organizations are yearning for tech solutions to streamline the registration and evaluation process, so that they can free up administrative time and measure the full distance of their potential impact. The OpenSports platform will move organizations away from the tedious multi-step registration that starts on paper. Organizations will have instant access to valuable metrics (i.e., showing growth in participation, tracking demographics, etc). This is miles away from the paper-and-pencil model that many non-profits are operating within!


REP is open sourcing training content and expert coaching feedback so that anyone can create or find really good training content. I love the picture that REP’s incredibly friendly and energetic CEO Shea Balish paints: No more crumpled up gym workouts at the bottom of your gym bag. All of that will be digitized, shareable, and valuable to athletes, coaches, parents, and sports clubs. What’s REALLY cool about this is the machine learning “automated expert coaching feedback system” that they are building. Upload video of yourself doing a skill, and the app will create a digital biomechanical profile of you, and compare that against the expert’s biomechanical profile, come up with quantitative feedback, and voila! Your best coach won’t be human!

Next steps & thank you’s

Well, we came out of this trip elated and energizzed! The generous prize money will help bring our concept to a reality so that our ideas can be more sustainable. OpenSports will start to work with the Kansas City community organizations like Mattie Rhodes, the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Kansas City, and the KC MLB Urban Youth Academy in order to build on what they’ve already started. We hope to launch OpenSports KC in January.

We are entirely grateful to the Kauffman Foundation, Kauffman Fellows, StartX, and all the other supporters of this event, as well as all of the wonderful community leaders we met. We really want to extend so much gratitude to the iBoost Zone. Thank you for identifying ways to work with everyone at all three hackathon locations!

This quote from Darrell Miller during Friday night’s Panel discussion, really resonated with me.

Mic Drop.


Alicia and the OpenSports Team