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Nike Kids: Play For All Raises The Bar

Nike invited us back out to LA for Nike Kids LA Media Day, where the theme was Play For All –  prioritizing inclusive communities, inclusive products and inclusive experiences in play and sport, because an active next generation means a better, more equitable future. This full day event was centered around access and inclusivity of how Nike is taking action to remove barriers to play and create belonging within sport for all, leading with girls. 

Photo: Nike

We began our day with a much needed Sanity Walk with the skilled Nike Trainer, Kirsty Godso. After stretching out, we went for a nice stroll down the Santa Monica strip. Taking in the fresh air, warm sun, and good energy set the tone for an amazing day to follow. We then got breakfast to go as we got ready to head over to NIke LAHQ, where we were welcomed for lunch. Nike set it off with children donning the new Nike kids collection as they danced out on their very own runway. That was followed with us listening to the Welcome and Intro led by Nike Executive Karie Conner and Nike Athlete Sanya Richards-Ross. 

Photo: Nike

After many years with Nike as well as the Global GM of Men’s Business at Jordan Brand, Karie Conner rejoined the North America Nike team to reshape and lead the future of the Kids Marketplace. Karie is also passionate about mentoring young women who aspire to achieve their career goals in the Sports Industry and she sits on the National Board for Friends of the Children. Upon meeting her at Nike’s Future 50 for Her event, she was the most welcoming and immensely supportive of us over at Made for the W.  Karie emphasized that kids that play live happier and healthier lives by being active and involved. She further stated that Nike is opening the spectrum of play and really meeting every kid across every life stage – in the order of movement, activity, play, sport.

Photo: Nike

Nike is accelerating their culture of innovation to serve kids’ all-day play and sport competition needs — and inviting everyone in. The priority for Nike Kids’ apparel and footwear is to be inclusive – of all sizes, identities and kids. Their latest collection was designed with kid-specific insights to solve for kid-specific challenges, such as: fit, weather conditions, accessibility, and support. We were able to get a personal tour of the Kids Innovation Product Showcase with live kid models with Nike’s VP of Global Kids Footwear, Kevin Dodson. Kevin is a 16-year Nike veteran. As a University of Oregon graduate, his love for footwear and the history of Nike runs deep. Through more than 10,000 body scans, Nike transformed their apparel sizing based on body shape to create a better overall fit for all kids. As Karie Conner shared, it’s one fit that fits all kids.

Nike is also expanding Nike All Conditions Gear (ACG) to include kids so that play doesn’t have to stop when the weather gets bad. Nike also prioritized making shoes as easy to put on and take off as possible, so little kids (and their grown-ups) can step into play, without any delays. Last but not least, it was vital for Nike to invest in girls to ensure the right apparel and equipment for their sport and development needs – so they can play comfortably and with confidence. Nike’s new Kids’ Alate Bra is designed for comfort, with fully adjustable straps and soft, sweat-wicking fabric that’s available in a range of skin tones. They also created an enhanced girls’ bra fit guide that makes it easier to find the right fit from the start. 

Photo: Nike

We then got to connect and engage with PeacePlayers LA through an amazing workshop. It was led by an exceptional team. Evan Unrau is the Director of PeacePlayers LA. In her role, Unrau brings with her an unwavering sense of self that she hopes will support young people as they authentically develop their own personal identity in the safe spaces that her team works hard to cultivate. Bryana Williams is the Head Coach of PeacePlayers LA and was definitely there to help lead the way. The voice of the workshop was Natalie Gutierrez’s very own. Through Coach Nat’s role in PeacePlayers as a Program Manager and Lead Coach, she has been able to actively impact her community through key core values that align with her own. We partook in activities that kept us active, interactive, and also reflective. It was such a great workshop to connect with everyone present and they definitely left an impact.

We were then able to take in a powerful Made To Play Panel of women that consisted of Nike Executive Caitlin Morris, Nike Athlete Aari McDonald, Nike Athlete Sanya Richards-Ross, and PeacePlayers Program Director, Sally Nnamani. Caitlin Morris is Vice President of Social & Community Impact at NIKE, Inc. In this role, Caitlin leads Nike’s community impact strategy, reflecting Nike’s belief in the power of sport to move the world forward and accelerate human potential. Guiding a global team and diverse portfolio of programs, these beliefs come to life through innovative and collaborative partnerships aimed at getting kids active and building inclusive communities, amplified by the power of employee engagement and Nike’s brand voice.

Photo: Nike

Aari McDonald joined the Arizona Women’s Basketball staff as Director of Recruiting Operations in September 2022. An alumna of the Wildcats program, McDonald’s role includes overseeing all recruiting logistics, assisting with on-campus visits and managing recruit information as well as social media content. She will serve on staff while fulfilling her WNBA commitments with the Atlanta Dream. 

Photo: Nike

Sanya Richards-Ross is one of the most decorated female athletes in Track and Field history with 4 gold medals and 1 bronze, and remains the fastest American woman to ever run the 400m. Long-ranked the world’s best 400m runner, Sanya Richards-Ross has been a force of nature since the beginning of her sports career. 4-Time Olympic Gold Medalist in Track and Field. She has many accolades, ranging from 6 Time World Champion, 400m American Record Holder, 3-Time Author, Founder/ Co-Owner of MommiNation, and Season 14 RHOA cast member.

Sally Nnamani is the US Director of Programs & Partnerships at PeacePlayers. She leads the strengthening and scaling of PeacePlayers programs across five markets – Brooklyn, Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles. She also co-leads key institutional partnership engagement with stakeholders such as Nike, NBPA, and the NBA. Sally is inspired by stories of overcoming and creating opportunities to level the playing field through partnerships, community building and social entrepreneurship.

Photo: Nike

As the panel progressed, one theme tended to oversee the conversation and that was the need for visibility of women in sport, starting from a young age and continuing onward to adulthood. There hasn’t always been enough representation of us being seen, heard, and understood. That is why Made for the W was so pivotal in its culmination – because we couldn’t wait for a seat at the table as fellow women in sport, we just had to go ahead and make our own. Nike is showing that mirrored interest and investment as they showcase excellence of women in sport, be it an athlete, a coach, a team member, or even an executive – just do it means the sky’s the limit. Caitlin Morris made a very strong statement when she said, “A good coach can change your day. A great coach can change your life.” And since there’s a coach in all of us, that means we have much more work to do to make sure we’re utilizing our purpose in its entirety.

We were then privileged enough to get to speak to some of these ladies, one-on-one. First, we were able to sit down with Karie Conner.  We first asked Karie as VP of Nike Kids, how has being a mother contributed to the work she is leading in this role? She said, “Being with Nike, leading the kids business and having two kids of my own, I think I live it and breathe it every day. But at the same time, I feel like there’s a bigger calling with being a woman in this industry. Even with coaching girls, I feel like I have a responsibility that I’m allowing for every other girl and every other woman that I work with, to show up as her unapologetic and authentic self.” 

We then touched on Kids Who Move, Move The World and how it was an awesome product initiative that showed how Nike is listening to kids – especially girls – to build products and programs that make sport more inclusive. We asked Karie how Nike continues to get insights from kids, especially from young girls, to continue this type of work? Karie stated that it was all about understanding the power of play, helping kids understand the power of play and serving them with play. Nike is super focused on giving every kid the opportunity and access to be able to play, especially girls. 

With the Made to Play initiatives, Karie emphasized how important it is that Nike is focusing on her – removing her barriers and giving her access. The play equity gap is wider for girls in underserved communities, which is why Nike teamed up with the LA84 Foundation’s Play Equity Fund (Los Angeles) and Laureus USA (New York City) to launch Made to Play Neighborhoods this year. The three-year program takes a place-based approach to empower community organizations in neighborhoods where girls face the biggest barriers and are participating the least in sport – to create equal access to play for Latina/Hispanic and Black girls. “These two partners allow Nike to go into the neighborhoods and communities of the underserved and undervalued to really make sure that Nike is giving her access to sport, allowing her to play and fall in love with play, so that remains for a lifetime.”

Photo: Nike

This initiative also ties in with Nike Game Growers. We asked Karie to tell us about what that program entails and how the third season went this year. She shared that it started in 2019, where they partnered with the WNBA and NBA, to make sure they help grow the game and serve girls in sport. It focuses on 7th and 8th grade girls, letting them define what sport is on their own terms. They build their own clinics, so it’s very DIY. Mindfulness clinics, mentoring clinics – they’re saying what they need and what they want so Nike can help them grow. 

We asked Karie to tap in on how intentional Nike has been with young girls and the development of their body when it comes to creating the apparel around them. Karie shared that she is most excited for that Nike Alate Bra. “You see all the different skin tones and you’re making sure she’s seen.” To be able to see the inclusivity and representation for young girls of all shapes, sizes, and skin tones, along with an amazing bra fit guide – are the many resources we wish we would’ve had when we were younger. Yet, Nike is constantly changing the trajectory in a meaningful way.

In true Made for the W fashion, we had to ask Karie what’s her go-to Nike silhouette? The one that nails comfort, style, and versatility. Karie stated that in Nike Inc. fashion it’s the Air Jordan 1. “ I can wear it with a dress, skirt, anything. I buy every color I can, so whatever I put on in the morning, I know I can walk in the closet and say that’ll be it. But when I talk about my kids, it’s a different story. I want it to be easy, especially my 5-year old son, Champ. So, him, I’m like Dynamo Go. He actually understands it. He’s like mom, I can easily get my foot in and out of the shoe. I am going to teach him how to tie his shoes but for now, this will do.”

We then got to speak to Caitlin, where we asked about her role as Nike’s VP of Social and Community Impact, in how intentional is she in integrating her own personal purpose with Nike’s initiatives? Caitlin shared how she started in Labor Rights and Supply Chain with Nike, and then she had a toddler. “Nathan changed my perspective on what work I wanted to be doing. Getting the world active felt much more personal to me. My personal passion meets where the company is.” 

We asked Caitlin to tell us about Cities of Play as an expansion of Nike’s Made to Play commitment. How special was it being a part of this and seeing the difference that it makes? Caitlin shared her excitement for this expansion. “What’s exciting is working with community organizations that have been doing this work forever, where you can actually see change. Nike can catalyze and support the organizations who are on the ground, delivering day in and day out.”

Photo: Nike

Coaches can really mold a child’s experience in sport, so we asked Caitlin to talk to us about Nike’s Coaching Playbooks and why they are putting such an emphasis on coaching? Nike believes there’s a coach in all of us so they have created free digital tools, like the Made to Play Coaching for Belonging Playbook, Made to Play Coaching Girls Guide and their Parent’s Back-to-School Guide, to help parents, coaches and others support inclusive, kid-centered play that empowers kids both on and off the court. “Nike is showing what it means to be intentional about how we treat children. It’s an opportunity to have cultural conversation around acceptance, especially amongst girls.”

Lastly, we asked Caitlin if there are any other upcoming Nike initiatives that she’s excited to help bring to life? It’s something that’s old but new again due to COVID. Nike Community Ambassadors have been some of the pioneers of our coaching/training materials. “Nike Retail Athletes are trained to go volunteer in community organizations that matter to them. A lot of the time, it’s a person who grew up in that community center who can now go give back to that same community center. It’s a real full circle moment for them. These Nike Athletes become heroes within their communities.” That visibility provides hope for similar opportunities to those looking up to these Nike athletes, to instill that faith that this could be them one day. 

We then got to converse with Sanya Richards-Ross. We asked her to tell us about her experience as an Olympic medalist hailing from Jamaica and as a mom, with how she has been able to incorporate both aspects into her journey with Nike? Sanya shared how she’s had an incredible experience being a Nike athlete. Track and field is the most popular sport in Jamaica, so growing up she always wanted to run. She remembered running in her first pair of Nike shoes and really wanting to represent the company, even at a young age. What Nike did for her allowed her to live my dream. She was able to reach the top of her sport because of their support. 

Sanya reminisced, “I remember in 2007 when I found out the illiteracy was rising in Jamaica. I wanted to do something because I was always very proud of the education I received in Jamaica. I called Nike and I got some other organizations on board to create a program that spanned for 7 years that helped over 700 kids read on their grade level. The mantra of Nike is that they put the athlete’s voices first, and it was not only on the track, but also off of what we’re passionate about. I felt blessed to have that full circle moment – born in Jamaica, competed for Team USA and still being able to give back to Jamaica in that way.”

With Sanya being an Olympic Gold Medalist and American Record Holder, we asked how it has been helping curate personalized experiences like Run with Sanya on the NRC app? She said those are the kind of things you dream of. People know her from a lot of things ranging from commentating, to being on Real Housewives or even being on the NRC app. She finds it to be an intimate way to connect with people and inspire them to run. “I find it a great joy to either introduce people or encourage them to run. Because for me, running has always been this incredible, holistic, spiritual experience. To be able to be the voice in someone’s ear, cheering them along, that’s just another way Nike has allowed me to expand my wings and do the things I love to do.”

We had to ask, from all the hats she wears, ranging from a Nike athlete, to an analyst, TV personality, and entrepreneur, as well as a mother. Of all the roles she plays, we had to know what her favorite part of this current chapter is. She didn’t hesitate as she responded that there was no doubt that being a mom is the biggest blessing of them all. She was brought to tears as she answered that by saying, “Nothing prepares you for the love and the beauty of being a mom. I got to live my dream because my parents sacrificed so much for me to be great. When you become a mom yourself, you realize how much you gotta give to this little person for them to do what they want to do, you realize how special it was.” 

We also asked Sanya how Nike has helped her transcend the realm as an athlete and instilled the confidence that anything she touches turns to gold. She expressed how she still has her Nike rep with her today, as she pointed to him across the room, who was also with her on the track. Nike has helped her walk through new doors, by doing the things they say they’re gonna do. Nike was there for me with unwavering support, that wasn’t about the wins, but us as people. That gave me the support and the confidence. 

We wanted to know what was Sanya’s go-to Nike sneaker and she exclaimed that she’s the Air Max Queen! “I love the cool colorways and designs. They can be dressy and also be casual. My favorite running shoe is the Air Pegasus. I had a really bad injury with my big toe and I felt it had just enough support and comfort to be able to go run with minimal pain.”

We then departed Nike LAHQ to head over to Century City Mall where Nike is partnering with CAMP, The Family Experience Company, for a reimagined sport experience rooted in a kid’s imagination and expression. You enter Nike Kids Camp through a secret door within the store canteen and it kicks off at Los Angeles’ Westfield Century Mall on Nov.19, with plans to open in other locations soon. Each sport-themed room features trained coaches and play and movement options for both big and little kids, inspiring a sense of belonging for all. And it turns siblings, friends and family members into their biggest cheerleaders. We were even surprised with a special guest, Sydney LeRoux, with her extremely adorable two children, Cassius and Roux. Cassius was even asked who his favorite player was – his mom or Cristiano Ronaldo. He didn’t hesitate to respond by saying Cristiano, leaving Sydney in awe. She was able to take her kids through the camp as we even got to experience how Nike is creating a spectrum of kid-right experiences – from complimentary to ticketed – that help redefine sport and invite kids and their families into play. We, even as adults, got to tap into our inner child, and enjoy this camp wholeheartedly. It was creatively nostalgic and engaging. If you have a chance, go check it out. It’s a blast for us all. 

We were able to come back to Shutters on the Beach and reconnect before we all departed, and just sitting amongst all these wonderful peers in the realm of sport, kids, inclusivity, and unity – looking around, you can just feel that yet again, Nike has gotten it right. To constantly push the envelope, shift the narrative and redirect the trajectory is beyond commendable. Yet, that is what makes Nike constantly a part of groundbreaking history, and we’re just honored to have a front row seat to witness the greatness ourselves. Looking forward to what Nike is cooking up next. Stay posted!

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