Healthy changes are taking place at Boys & Girls Club of America (BGCA) chapters around the country because of a program called Triple Play. When the BGCA and The Coca-Cola Company first partnered on the Triple Play program in 2004, the “holistic approach to health and wellness” was geared toward children ages 6 to 18. Since then, the program has grown from about 170,000 participants in 2004 to nearly 1.2 million participants in 2011.

Triple Play teaches young people new ways to eat nutritiously, increase physical fitness and form positive relationships with peers and adults. The three prongs must work together. “It’s all about balance. You can’t focus on just one component; it’s all about integrating the three. When kids learn the appropriate mix between foods and beverages, physical activity and friendship, that’s when they start to show a sustainable lifestyle,” says Erika Von Heiland Strader, director, community marketing, Coca-Cola North America.

Sustainability might be the most apt word to describe the history between The Coke and the BGCA. “Our system has supported and realized the value of having strong relationships with local nonprofits since the early 1900s,” says Quinton Martin, vice president of community marketing, Coca-Cola North America. The Coca-Cola Company began a more formal relationship with the Boys & Girls Club of America after Robert W. Woodruff was introduced to the then Boys Club of America through its longtime advocate President Herbert Hoover.

Kids participate in the Triple Play Program

The weekend-long Leadership Summit focused on community action and engaged approximately 127 Boys & Girls Club kids and staff.

One Size Doesn't Fit All

The idea was to create something that would be meaningful to the kids, rather than something that was merely meeting certain standards, says Martin. “The BGCA knows how to talk to kids; it’s what they do best. They’re very good at creating platforms that make learning fun.” As the program grew, the partners enlisted the help of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to make sure that the data and science put into the program were correct. “That’s the first and most important piece: We didn’t want to go on anyone’s opinions. We wanted the best science possible,” he says.

The most important lesson in this BGCA partnership may be “one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to body, mind and soul,” says Martin. “If a kid isn’t competitive, there are still ways to get that kid to be more active without pushing him or her into team sports. It’s all about kids, and kids feeling good about themselves.”

One of the Triple Play initiatives that has shown great promise is the Leadership Summit, which flows from Leadership Clubs in nationwide BGCA chapters. These Clubs, part of the Triple Play “Body” segment, allow young adult BGCA members to model their Triple Play healthy, active lifestyles, but they also allow these leaders to create and implement new activities and opportunities for their younger community members to gain new, positive behaviors. From learning to identify proper portion sizes to strengthening character through recreation, the Leadership Clubs reinforce the goals of the program — but they also introduce extra variety into chapter programs.

Triple Play Leadership Summit

Triple Play participants walk in to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Reaching the Kids

The club members who attended the Triple Play Leadership Summit joined forces with notable Olympic athletes and youth leaders to provide a forum for young people to develop their own solutions for confronting the obesity crisis in their communities. The Leadership Summit took place at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., and featured American boxer Marlen Esparza, who earned the bronze medal in Women’s Boxing at the 2012 Olympics. The weekend symposium focused on community action and engaged approximately 127 Boys & Girls Club kids and staff — representing 42 Clubs from around the U.S. — who were selected based on their commitment to enriching and improving their communities.

At the conclusion of the event, participating youth developed action plans for how they will combat obesity in their own communities by the end of the year. The young leaders will implement such activities as cleaning up parks, reforming school lunch menus, and organizing walks and runs to help put other young people on a better path for healthy lifestyles. At the event, Boys & Girls Club kids participated in a mini-Olympics experience where they received hands-on tips from Olympians in a variety of sports. They also engaged in various training activities, including broadcast journalism, public relations and community service. All participants also took part in at least 60 minutes of exercise during their stay.

Given the current concerns about obesity, the Triple Play effort is an important way to reach young people directly about how this problem affects their communities. “Physical activity and nutrition education are the most important, teachable components of health and wellness,” says Von Heiland Strader. “By supporting the Triple Play program and the Triple Play Leadership Summit, we are not only preparing youth to live more active lives — we are preparing them for brighter futures.”