US Play Coalition

US Play Coalition logo

The US Play Coalition is a partnership to promote the value of play throughout one’s life. It consists of individuals and organizations that recognize play as a valuable and necessary part of a healthy and productive life. This very young organization is housed within Clemson University’s College of Health, Education and Human Development. The coalition is fortunate to have Clemson University and the College of Park, Recreation and Tourism Managements’ continuing support.

The coalition was born of The Summit on the Value of Play, which took place at Clemson University in the summer of 2009. The attendees at this important summit made a commitment to create a coalition whose purpose would be to bring together organizations and individuals in support of play and to open up opportunities for people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to incorporate play into their lives.

The Summit on the Value of Play – June 14-16, 2009

The concept for a Summit on the Value of Play resulted from a September 2008 meeting in Bend, Oregon between Clemson University’s Dr. Brett Wright, Chair for the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management, Clemson University; Fran Mainella, Visiting Scholar, Clemson University and Former National Park Service Director; and Ken Kutska, Executive Director, International Playground Safety Institute, LLC. The timing was right for holding a planning meeting of selected stakeholders to further discuss the merits of convening a “Summit on the Value of Play for All” initiative. Clemson University’s interest in the subject of play and the discussion of the benefits of play as it relates to Clemson’s overall mission created a perfect fit that led to Clemson University agreeing to host and chair such a meeting on their campus.

A small group of people from various areas related to the subject of play convened on the Clemson University Campus with faculty shortly after classes finished in 2008. The group developed the Goals and Objectives for the Summit, and everyone agreed to hold the first Summit on the Value of Play at the Clemson University’s Madren Conference Center on June 14-16, 2009. The participants agreed to all work towards the success of this first Summit and the Summit Steering Committee was formally created.

Original Steering Committee for the US Play Coalition

  • Co-Chairs Dr. Brett Wright and Fran P. Mainella
  • Dr. Larry Allen
  • Dr. Bob Becker
  • Richard J. Dolesh
  • Jackie Epping
  • Dan Hendy
  • Teri Hendy
  • Tom Kalousek
  • Kenneth S. Kutska 
  • Tom Norquist 
  • Eric W. O’Brien 
  • Dr. Dee Stegelin

Shortly after the first planning meeting, the Summit on the Value of Play Steering Committee developed the following case statement.

“We believe that play is a basic human right and the foundation of strong intellectual, physical and emotional development. We believe play is essential to a person reaching his or her full potential. Unfortunately, we also believe that an erosion of the value of play has occurred in modern society and we are beginning to see the negative impacts of this devaluation among our citizens, manifest in greater incidences of obesity, attention deficit disorder, and limited creativity, to name but a few. We therefore call for the establishment of an initiative to promote the value of play in our society. We believe that a culture that encourages playfulness in daily life is healthier in mind and body. We believe that playful experiences, whether physical or cognitive in nature, enable people to adjust and adapt to political, economic and social change and make these institutions stronger. We believe that equal access to all forms and types of play opportunities for people of all ages and abilities in our communities is essential to enhancing the quality of life for all and building stronger communities.

We support the immediate need for a Summit to articulate the latest thinking and research on the measureable benefits of play; to highlight the current political, economic, and social barriers that stifle play; and to identify existing opportunities and new initiatives necessary to overcome these barriers and re-establish the value of play.

The Summit will bring together the nation’s leading authorities on the role and value of play from the fields of education, health, human development and recreation, to discuss the current role of play in modern society and the factors that limit its value. A wide audience is necessary for this message to have impact. Therefore, an edited book of proceedings of papers given by these authorities will be published to allow for a continuation of the dialogue on play. In addition, each presentation will be webcast to reach a wider audience. Finally, an action plan will be devised to re-establish the value of play as originally conceptualized by Joseph Lee, Luther Gullick and other forward thinking individuals who first recognized the power of play.

The Summit will be by “invitation only” and we believe your involvement in this summit, as a catalyst for change in the World of Play, is essential. Clemson University’s Madren Conference Center, Clemson, South Carolina, will be the host site June 14-16, 2009. Your participation in this meeting will help establish a national agenda for action that brings a greater focus on the value of play for all. So, please join us!”1

Who Attended?

The target audience for The Summit on the Value of Play consisted of approximately 100 attendees, including the nation’s leading authorities on the role and value of play from the fields of health, education, human development, and recreation. Through a dissemination of information with the attendees' respective associates the target audience was incrementally much larger. The attendees were representatives of educational institutions, businesses, federal, state, and local agencies, hospitals, health institutions, nonprofit and other organizations. As a result of this conference, a new collaborative network was developed. Coming from different backgrounds, many of these individuals had never sat together before and had come together for this history making event. The outcomes from The Summit on the Value of Play have the potential to make a tremendous difference in the lives and health of our nation’s citizens.

Summit Objectives

The purpose of the Summit was to bring together a target audience of the nation’s leading authorities on the role and value of play from the fields of health, education, human development, and recreation. The Summit gave these authorities the opportunity to discuss the current role of play in modern society and the factors that limit its value. It will be a mechanism to further "Healthy People 2010," and its overarching goal of "increasing quality and years of healthy life." Participants in the summit had a venue in which to articulate the latest thinking and information on the measureable benefits of play on the health, physical activity, and well-being of this nation and its citizens.

Keynote speakers and their addresses were Dr. Joe Frost, Confronting the Crisis in Children’s Play; Dr. Stuart Brown, Play and Cognitive Development; Ms. Hara Marano, The Physical Benefits of Play; and Ms. Cheryl Charles, the Affective Benefits of Play. These keynote speakers were able to bring focus to the tasks at hand. Their keynote addresses reaffirmed the participants’ belief that play is a basic human need and the foundation of strong intellectual, physical, and emotional development. They offered many examples from various research studies supporting the belief that free play is essential for a person to reach his full potential.

The Summit on the Value of Play addressed our nation’s problem with the erosion of the value of play and identified some issues that need more study and further action. The negative impacts from the lack of play among our citizens are clearly seen, including obesity, attention deficit disorder, and limited creativity, to name a few.

Calls to Action

The participants were able to highlight the current political, economic, and social barriers that stifle play and worked toward the identification of existing opportunities and new initiatives necessary to overcome these barriers. Based on the collaborative exchange of ideas among attendees, calls to action were developed, including implementation steps that convey the value of play as it relates to health, physical activity, and overall well-being. In association with conference attendees, the Steering Committee was asked to compile and publish a self-perpetuating annotated bibliography and web directory of people, programs, projects, and publications (including the summit proceedings) associated with the value of play.

Shortly after the conclusion of the Summit, the Steering Committee agreed on the name, US Play Coalition, and Clemson University agreed to continue to house this initiative during its early stages of growth and development. Since then, the US Play Coalition has created five committees to further the coalition’s commitment:

  • Coalition Building Committee - works to encourage membership in the coalition.
  • Research Committee – compiles and synthesizes existing research on play.
  • Communications Committee – is responsible for building a national campaign to raise awareness.
  • Advocacy Committee – keeps coalition members aware of current and proposed legislation related to play.
  • Guidelines Committee – is the repository of all existing guidelines, standards, and best practices from around the country.

Subsequent Conferences

The US Play Coalition 2011 Conference on the Value of Play was held on February 6-9, 2011, at Clemson University’s Madren Conference Center. The over 200 attendees represented a very diverse group including people from the medical profession, health, education, child development, kinesiology, architecture, parks and recreation, manufacturers, professional organizations, parents, advocacy groups, and many other proponents of play. This conference emphasized “the health and education implications of play, while still focusing on the role of parks and recreation in facilitating play for all.”2

The US Play Coalition 2012 Conference on the Value of Play: Multi-Generational Actions and Strategies was held February 26-29, 2012, once again at Clemson University’s Madren Conference Center. The attendance increased to more than 265 attendees with two delegations from Shanghai, China, who signed memoranda of understanding with the US Play Coalition and Clemson University to further advocacy of play. One represented the Shanghai Government version of parks and recreation and the other was the Shanghai University of Sport.

  • 1. Kutska, Kenneth S. “The US PLAY Coalition.” Text provided directly to Playground Professionals. July 2010.
  • 2. Agate, Joel R. and Fran P. Mainella. “US Play Coalition. The Value of Play: It Matters!” Recreation Management. <http://www.recmanagement.com/feature_print.php?fid=201010gc02> 14 Feb. 2011.