Dr. Mike Perko, an associate professor of public health education in UNCG’s School of Health and Human Sciences, has created 500 Fist Bumps – a public health effort delivered through youth and recreational sports organizations. The initiative uses fist bumps as a connection point for building care, trust and a supportive environment for kids.
A POWERFUL EMBODIMENT
Perko says kids need this now more than ever – especially following the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Surgeon General released several advisories about the impact of social media on children, youth mental health, and the epidemic of loneliness. And with 60 million kids a year playing youth sports, Perko sees the playing field, rink, court, or pool as the perfect venue for this effort.
“Kids need support right now and we can’t wait for them to get lucky enough to have that one coach who provides that support,” Perko says. “500 Fist Bumps demands that the entire organization commit, in writing, on their website, and in real time the promise that they will be there for every single kid who signs up.”
When a youth sports team or rec organization commits to 500 Fist Bumps, their goal is to make sure every child gets multiple fist bumps from coaches and other players at every practice or activity – whether they do something correctly or not – trying for 500 bumps each activity. The fist bump is globally understood, can be seen by everyone, and is a safe public health practice.
“It’s a very powerful embodiment of a connection of our human expression,” says Perko. “Kids deserve to be seen; they need empathy, encouragement, respect, approval, friendship, appreciation, and support. A fist bump is the pathway to all of those in real time. And listen, this is no participation trophy, teams that adopt a physical gesture, like a fist bump, improve their overall performance so it’s a win-win.”
A 500 Fist Bump organization can create positive team culture in just 10 seconds, increase a young athlete’s feeling of support in 10 minutes, and show a measurable mental health impact in 10 months. And in 10 years, the community will also see results.
Perko, who has expertise in both youth athletics and corporate wellness programs, knows that kids who are valued and engaged have the opportunity to grow up to be healthier adults.
“These kids are going to be the employees of our companies. They’re going to be the parents of our kids on the playing fields. They’re going to be our teachers, mayors, and community leaders,” Perko says. “We know this won’t solve all our societal issues, but it is the least we can do, on purpose, for kids right now.”
A PERSONAL START
Before becoming a professor, Perko was a coach for multiple sports at the high school and college levels. 500 Fist Bumps brings together his love of coaching with his passion for public health. But the idea for the initiative is even more personal.
Years ago, Perko’s son Jack attended a lacrosse camp but did not have any experience with the sport. Perko noticed his son’s lack of enthusiasm and nervousness to play until one coach encouraged the use of fist bumps, no matter the circumstance.
“My son had never played, was a foot shorter than everyone out there, and felt totally out of place. In 10 seconds, I watched this coach create an environment where all the kids out there were seen,” Perko says.
After the coach implemented the fist bumps idea, Perko noticed a difference.
“I watched Jack go from standing on the outside of this group to getting fist bumps left and right for everything that he tried,” says Perko. “But more importantly, he was giving fist bumps back to kids that were taller than him, older than him, and more experienced than him. My son was lucky to have this coach; my goal is to help organizations commit to this so that every coach our kids get will be that coach.”
A 500 FIST BUMPS COMMUNITY
500 Fist Bumps, which is affiliated with UNCG’s Center for Athlete Well-Being, rolled out the initiative this spring with five youth sport teams.
The organization most recently landed its first local partner for the program – NC Fusion. The organization has more than 8000 kids sign up for soccer, lacrosse and field hockey each year from the surrounding area. Dr. Perko and his Center for Athlete Well-Being colleagues Dr. Stephen Hebard and Dr. Jeff Milroy will test the initiative with a larger number of coaches in the fall.
Perko and his colleagues are looking to partner with any organization who understand the need for building trust, support, and care with kids on purpose, and everyone can see it happening in real time. They hope to expand it to schools, faith communities, camps, etc. and ultimately across the globe.
“My big dream is to have Greensboro be known as the first 500 Fist Bump Community where every kid who participates in a local 500 Fist Bump organization knows they are seen and supported. Every kid. Imagine!’” says Perko.
MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN YOUR COMMUNITY’S HEALTH