A video loop of colorful images and text from the Coaching for Belonging playbook, and kids participating in sports.

Nike Coaching for Belonging

Building a future of sport where every kid feels—and knows—that they belong.

The work

A great coach can set kids up for a lifetime of enjoying play, sport and movement, while a bad one can turn them off of it forever. With youth sport participation and play in decline globally (a trend worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic), Nike wanted to engage coaches to turn the tide and create a more welcoming and accessible future of sport. We partnered with Nike to turn the insights of experts, coaches and athletes around the world into a comprehensive guide that helps coaches create belonging in sport for kids, through a mix of advice, tips, best practices and personal stories.

Our roles

  • Content Strategy
  • Editorial Strategy
  • Content Production
  • Brand Design

The Opportunity

Help coaches create movement spaces where all kids can thrive.

Nike has a strong point of view, and decades of experience, touting the physical, emotional, social and cultural benefits of play, sport and movement. But play itself is at risk for kids around the world, due to technological, societal and structural pressures. Nike’s Made to Play initiative had already created content around equity and inclusion in sport, but the existing guides were focused on specific needs, such as the Coaching Girls Guide, Hijab Playbook and Sports Bra Playbook. Nike challenged us to create a guide around belonging as a whole. With the goal of producing a free, globally translated playbook available to coaches and caring adults anywhere, we got to work.

Closeup of a coach writing in a notebook or playbook.
A smiling girl in a wheelchair, catching a baseball, interspersed with principles from the playbook.

Our Approach

Building the basics: Learning what belonging really means to kids around the world.

Sport reflects and amplifies culture, and the same is true of coaches. Anyone who went through gym class or a youth sport can remember coaches, teachers and adults who listened, cared, encouraged and made room—and others who excluded, played favorites, interfered or demeaned. This project zeroed in on helping coaches recognize and bring fresh energy to their own behaviors and practices, all in service of welcoming more kids and making sure they felt and knew they belonged. We worked with Nike to define what belonging is, how it’s built and how it takes shape in kids’ everyday lives.

Two adolescent-age girls relaxing in the sun on a turf-like surface, with their eyes closed.

Our research built off of the wealth of knowledge Nike and its partners had created around coaching, while incorporating new cultural insights around belonging, identity and psychological safety. We took special care to understand how belonging is affected by race and ethnicity, gender expression and sexuality, religious and cultural beliefs, disability and socioeconomic background. We arrived at some universal insights that would help coaches rethink and elevate their entire practice: First, that every kid is different. Second, the coach-kid relationships that make a difference are built by bringing care, connection and curiosity to every interaction.

“Nike community experts shared so much insight with us that it was truly an embarrassment of riches. The job was almost puzzle-like in nature—determining how to create the best tool as succinctly as possible from so many incredible components.”

Amanda Zweerink, Strategist and Partner at Zeus Jones

The Outcome

Creating a playbook for the next generation of coaches and athletes.

Our strategic work set the stage for a deeply journalistic phase of the project, where we interviewed 15 coaches and experts from Nike partner organizations around the world. The result was invaluable information, gut checks and guidance from those who live and breathe the work of helping kids belong in sport. We incorporated their stories into a digital playbook available for download on the Nike Made to Play website. We designed the guide using a refreshed Made to Play visual language that we created.

Helping kids—all kids—have a lifelong relationship with sport is a priority for Nike. Reversing the decline in participation will be an uphill battle, especially in the face of addictive and sedentary technology, budget cuts, lingering pandemic-related behavioral shifts and cultural flashpoints about who belongs in sport. This playbook, which is now being translated into 24 languages and was mentioned in Nike’s 2022 impact report, furthers that impact at a time when it’s never been more needed.

A colorful collage of children interacting with coaches, along with a text graphic that reads “There’s a Coach in All of Us.”
A blue graphic with white text that reads “Try This: Redefine Success.”
Our team

Alex Gaterud
Amanda Zweerink
Chelsea Frimpong
Dana Raidt
Denzel Boyd
Erica Schlaikjer
Megan Reilly
Sarah Youngquist

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