Case Study: Oakland Sports Equity Coalition

We’ve written a lot about the reasons behind Positive Coaching Alliance’s pursuit of sports equity in under-resourced communities, but what does it mean to actually address this problem? We believe that solutions must come from the community to create effective change. Looking at Oakland as an example, we brought together local stakeholders to establish a coalition that would co-create a Sports Equity Agenda specific to their city. This agenda outlines strategies and action plans for implementation while serving as a road map to create more equitable youth sports opportunities for marginalized youth and their coaches.

The need for a local Sports Equity Coalition

Years of deep engagement with communities have taught us that a one-size-fits-all approach is ineffective in helping children from under-resourced neighborhoods access and thrive in youth sports. We believe that creating an equitable youth sports community hinges on three critical areas: 1) developing a comprehensive strategy that includes research and community organizing; 2) facilitating collective action and capacity building; and 3) emphasizing advocacy and ongoing evaluation. These principles form the foundation of our Sports Equity Framework.

Using this framework, Positive Coaching Alliance works closely with key local stakeholders to collectively analyze barriers to participation and develop strategies that address the root causes of sports inequity. Our approach entails leveraging research, involving a diverse range of stakeholders—from philanthropists to local families—in decision-making, and establishing a community of practice for knowledge sharing. By prioritizing cultural proficiency and inclusive program designs, we strive to align resources and actions towards shared goals, ensuring the sustainability of interventions.

In 2021, we initiated the Oakland Sports Equity Coalition, aiming to eliminate sports equity gaps that disproportionately affect young athletes, coaches, and community members in Oakland. The coalition brought together community leaders, youth sports professionals, recreation leaders, and the local business community to collaboratively shape an equitable youth sports ecosystem. Our goal was to co-create a Sports Equity Agenda, serving as a roadmap tailored to the unique needs of  the community.

Anticipated outcomes of the Sports Equity Coalition

The purpose of the Sports Equity Coalition is to build a youth sports space that supports, recognizes, and celebrates every community, regardless of zip code, identity, or life experience.  We broke down our work into four phases: Research, Vision and Problem Definition, Action Plan Development, and Drafting and Publishing the Agenda.

By creating a Sports Equity Agenda, the coalition aimed to achieve the following outcomes:

  • Increased youth sports participation rates in under-resourced neighborhoods
  • Increased number of available volunteer coaches from local communities
  • Increased access to quality coach education
  • Increased number of BIPOC women and girls+ playing and coaching 
  • Improved quality of the local youth sports experience 

The Oakland agenda outlines the Coalition’s vision, sports equity frameworks, research on root causes and best practices, identified sports equity gaps in Oakland, goals and strategies to address each gap, and a detailed action plan that aligns with those goals.

Highlights from our coalition work

One of the projects that demonstrates the benefits of intentionally creating coalitions is an elementary school sports program pilot launched by the Oakland Unified School District, a founding member of the Sports Equity Coalition, in 2022. Through our monthly coalition meetings, the district and other fellow coalition partners identified that there was a lack of affordable entry points into youth sports for elementary-aged children in Oakland’s economically challenged areas. Creating a free, holistic sports program hosted by the OUSD emerged as an ambitious but viable solution. 

From October 2022 to May 2023, this transformative initiative created nearly 4,000 new sports opportunities for low-income youth across the city, offering a variety of activities such as baseball, golf, hip hop dance, skateboarding, soccer, and softball, significantly enriching the sports landscape. There were two program times offered:

  • Weekday sports programming at 51 elementary school sites for students enrolled in the afterschool program
  • Saturday sports programming at selected sites available for all OUSD families

The district also successfully leveraged their resources to bring in 11 local youth sports organizations, including members of the Sports Equity Coalition, to serve as providers for the program. PCA provided coaching training, program design guidance, and evaluation support.

Our comprehensive evaluation found significant achievements in meeting or exceeding the program’s goals. The program successfully boosted both interest and participation in sports for students in the district. It also increased participation rates in BIPOC neighborhoods and communities (72% of participants are low-income youth of color), increased the number of BIPOC coaches, and increased the number of girls (playing) and women of color (coaching). We were excited to learn that the pilot program also improved physical activity as well as positive attitudes and behaviors towards health, sports, and movement for the children involved. 

You can read more about the program and lessons learned from the design and implementation in our full evaluation report.

“Collaborating with the Oakland Sports Equity Coalition is not a sports technical connection but a strategic alliance to advance local change for community impact. This collaboration has transformed challenges into triumphs for the YES! Sports program. When we say yes to sports and are grounded by equity and the courage to challenge the status quo, we push forward towards a common goal and ideas, creating blueprints that change the youth sports landscape. We intend to cultivate joy, and our arrival is to say ‘YES!’ to sports for all youth. Thank you, PCA for playing a pivotal role.”

Chen Kong-Wick, Program Manager, OUSD Expanded Learning Program and YES! Sports


“The Oakland Sport Equity Coalition works on so many levels. I always come out of the Oakland Sports Equity Coalition (OSEC) workshops energized by seeing how many leaders in Oakland understand the power of sport and how it can have life changing impacts on individuals and the community as a whole. In a short time, OSEC has convened an impressive group and even more importantly has made an immediate impact on the youth sports landscape in Oakland.”

Kevin Kelley, Founder & Executive Director, Oakland Lacrosse

Next steps for the Oakland Sports Equity Coalition

After developing the Sports Equity Agenda, the past year has been focused on benchmarking the indicators and performance measures listed in the action plan and sharing how we track progress. 

If you’re inspired by Oakland’s Sports Equity Coalition and our vision for change, check out our Sports Equity Agenda for an in-depth look at our approach and see how you can use it as a model in your community. We’re also currently fielding requests to bring this work to new communities and are looking for supporters. For more information, contact PCA’s Chief Impact Officer, Rob Marcus: [email protected]