The Aspen Institute's Healthy Sport Index shows that all sports can offer benefits to its participants. At the same time, we recognize that each team within each sport offers a different experience. Some deliver more benefits than others.

The Aspen Institute, in partnership with Hospital for Special Surgery, is conducting a national search to identify exemplary and innovative high school sports teams that model best practices for developing healthy athletes. Apply below and demonstrate how your high school sports team builds athletes for life and creates healthy communities.

CRITERIA: Our national search is looking for high school sports teams that embrace best practices and innovate new ways to encourage physical activity, minimize injury risk, and support athletes' emotional, social and mental well-being. The Aspen Institute wants to identify teams that apply creativity to benefit youth and could serve as a model for others in the sport.

PRIZES: Winners will receive a $500 award (cash or equivalent gift card); national recognition through a story written by the Aspen Institute; distinction as a model for other programs on the Healthy Sport Index website; and one free registration to a future Project Play Summit.

SPORTS: Nominators must be at least 18 years of age. Anyone who works in high school sports (coach, athletic director, athletic trainer, high school association, etc.) may make a nomination of a single team from a high school. Please nominate one team (not an entire high school or athletic department) per application. Additional teams from that same high school may be nominated in subsequent applications. Nominees are limited to the following sports, which were selected based upon national participation data:

- Baseball
- Basketball (Boys/Girls)
- Competitive Cheerleading
- Cross Country (Boys/Girls)
- Lacrosse (Boys/Girls)
- Soccer (Boys/Girls)
- Softball
- Swimming (Boys/Girls)
- Tennis (Boys/Girls)
- Track and Field (Boys/Girls)
- Volleyball (Girls)
- Wrestling

RULES: One winner will be identified for each sport. This will result in winners from seven boys sports (baseball, basketball, football, lacrosse, soccer, tennis, wrestling), seven girls sports (basketball, competitive cheerleading, cross country, lacrosse, soccer, tennis, volleyball) and three combined boys/girls sports (cross country, swimming, track and field). Combined winners are being selected in three sports because those sports tend to have one coach who coaches both genders.

The first winner was recognized in Fall 2019: American Heritage School's football team, which was recognized in a USA Today story written by the Aspen Institute. Additional winners will be identified in late 2019 and throughout 2020. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis throughout 2019 and into 2020. Once a winning team is selected, no more applications for that sport will be accepted.

To learn more information, read the Healthy Sport Index Contest rules. For questions, contact Jon Solomon, Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program Editorial Director, at

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* 1. High School Nominee Name (Include City, State)

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* 2. High School Sport Nominee (Choose 1 sport per application)

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* 3. Physical Activity

A large body of research underscores the benefits of exercise, from brain development to reduced risk of chronic illness. Recent research demonstrates that significant amounts of practice time in many high school sports is spent lying down, sitting or standing. What ways does your high school team promote physical activity, both during your sport season and throughout the course of the academic year? Please share in the comment box below.

Areas of interest for the Aspen Institute:
  • Provide participation opportunities that meet the demand of youth (i.e., fielding no-cut programs that support intramural, junior varsity and freshman teams in addition to varsity teams)
  • Promote multi-sport participation and encourage players to try different sports in your team's offseason to further develop athletic skills and avoid burnout and overuse injuries
  • Coaches trained in skill development, safety, and developmentally appropriate communication to safeguard young athletes
  • Efficient practice plans to enable maximum engagement and physical activity

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* 4. Safety

All physical activities come with the risk of injury, ranging from mild to serious. Injury is one of the leading reasons that kids discontinue participation in sports. How does your high school team attempt to prevent injuries and illnesses and care for athletes when these occur? Please share in the comment box below and in additional questions.

Areas of interest for the Aspen Institute:
  • Emergency action plans that are disseminated and practiced annually at each practice and competition venue
  • Presence of certified athletic trainer
  • Practice restrictions limiting the amount of full contact to protect against hits to the head
  • Best practices from a consensus statement by the National Athletic Trainers' Association, National Federation of State High School Associations and other sports and medical organizations.
  • Implementation of best practices for athlete safety as described for Safe Sport award winners by the National Athletic Trainers' Association (take this quiz to see if your school can qualify to be a Safe Sport School) 

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* 5. In what areas of focus is your high school coach certified? (Check all that apply)

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* 6. Does your high school team have a certified athletic trainer?

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* 7. Psychosocial Benefits

Playing a sport can benefit the well-being of its athletes, such as emotional and social skills, academic motivation, mental health, and decreasing substance abuse. How does your team use sports to positively impact the emotional, social and mental well-being of your athletes? Please share in the comment box below.

Areas of interest for the Aspen Institute:
  • National Federation of State High School Associations best practices for high school athlete mental health
  • Fostering relationships among players with coaches and teammates
  • Academic requirement rules for sport participation
  • Best practices from the Aspen Institute's Calls for Coaches social and emotional skills resource for youth coaches
  • Interassociation recommendations for developing a plan to recognize and refer athletes with psychological concerns

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* 8. Innovation

Describe any innovations for healthy sports participation (policy, practice drills, technology, partnerships with consultants, incentives to encourage participation and enjoyment, etc.) that your high school team applies that you believe makes it exemplary. Show us your creativity to help solve problems on behalf of building healthy children.

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* 9. What is the coach's name and contact information of the high school team you are nominating?

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* 10. What is your name and contact information?