Less than one-quarter of children aged 6-17 participate in the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical activity decreased while sedentary behavior increased even further due to the coronavirus pandemic with students participating in distance learning from home and after-school sports, clubs and other activities suspended with prior stay-at-home mandates in place.
Coupled with the rise in popularity of esports and video games and more time spent staring at phones and computers, there is concern for the health and wellbeing of America’s youth due to an inactivity pandemic.
“Kids are being pushed out of the system,” said Paul Winsper, Under Armour vice-president of athlete performance. “They’re eating worse than they ever have, they’re moving worse than they ever have, and they’re more stressed than they’ve ever been.
“That’s not good. That’s not going to serve us well as a species long-term.”
In order to educate, empower and encourage athletes of all ages, backgrounds, skill and socioeconomic levels—especially youth athletes—to get out and get moving, Under Armour today unveiled its UA Next platform.
Available via web on computer and mobile browser, the platform consists of two primary elements: an experiential platform where athletes can search and sign up for a variety of camps, clinics, showcases games, leagues and tournaments through the calendar in every sport, and a digital performance hub launching in 2022 where athletes can access a variety of content from premier coaches and trainers to support their training ambitions.
The UA Next platform reinforces Under Armour’s holistic approach to developing the athlete from weekend warriors to world-class Olympians and everyone in between. Rather than focusing on running as fast as one can or bench pressing as much as possible, the goal, according to Winsper, is to develop good habits that create a strong base for improvement and success—and thus, running faster times and lifting greater weight—while identifying potential areas of concern.
“If I’m building this huge reservoir of this vocabulary of movement, sport becomes the book,” Winsper said. “If I’m going to read a book and I don’t understand letters, words, sentences, paragraphs and chapters, good luck reading War and Peace. We can’t just push kids straight into sports—i.e. figure it out and read War and Peace—and not equip them with this reservoir of movement.
“Our job is taking it all back to fundamentals—we’re getting kids up and moving and trying to encourage them to do it in a playful way.”
The physical, mental and emotional benefits of regular physical activity are well documented. According to the CDC, regular physical activity can help children and adolescents improve cardiorespiratory fitness, build strong bones and muscles, control weight, reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, and help reduce the risk of developing health conditions including heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and type-2 diabetes.
Not only will UA Next help student-athletes improve on the field physically, but it’s geared towards improvement off it as well by including mental health aspects via Train the Mind. Also on the platform will be Coach’s Armory to help educate and empower coaches how to set team and individual goals, build optimism, run meditation sessions and more.
For two-time Olympic gold medalist, world and U.S. national champion sprinter Natasha Hastings, the mental aspect of sports is equally as important as the physical.
“Literally every program I’ve created with my non-profit (Natasha Hastings Foundation) is built with the thought of, ‘What did I wish I had access to? What if I had access to this as a high school athlete?’ Hastings said. “When I got to college and my coach sent me to a sports psychologist for the first time, my mom was like, ‘What the heck?’ but now more high schoolers and junior high schoolers are having access to those things.
“Especially in this age of social media, we see a culture of working excessively hard and I think it’s incredibly important that everyone understands the importance of not only getting physically better, but allowing yourself to physically get better by allowing yourself to rest.”
As part of UA Next, Under Armour also hosted eight elite student-athletes at its Human Performance Center in Portland, Oregon, to get first-hand experience and guidance as they look to take their careers to the next level.
Tyler Booker (football), KK Bransford (basketball), Tallen Edwards (softball), Elijah Green (baseball), Amanda Mack (volleyball), McCabe Millon (lacrosse), Isa Torres (lacrosse), and Jarace Walker (basketball) spent four days in July receiving instruction and activities on everything from training and recovery to personal branding as part of Under Armour’s The Workout.
While not every athlete is able to participate in The Workout, they will still be able to utilize Under Armour’s educational and training resources through the UA Next platform. But Winsper is quick to reiterate that it won’t be an easy, overnight solution to one’s physical or athletic inspirations.
“It’s hard work, it’s determination, it’s building habits over time, and it’s about doing the right things again and again to get the result,” Winsper said. “It’s a commitment if you want to be great as an athlete, and we’re here to support that commitment and journey, not sell you some fake snake oil that claims it’s going to make you fast tomorrow. We’re trying to cut through all the BS and drive the coaches, athletes and consumers to the right information at the right time from the right experts in a way that’s easily digestible, not overwhelming and will show results if you’re committed to it.”
The shift in focus to holistic health and training comes at a time when Under Armour continues to reinvent itself following slumps in revenue growth and interest among consumers favoring athleisure and fashion.
Founded in 1996, Under Armour overtook adidas in 2015 as the second-largest sports apparel company in the United States by sales, trailing only NikeNKE. The Baltimore-based brand posted 26 consecutive quarters of 20% or greater year-over-year revenue growth, while its stock more than doubled in two years’ time.
While retail giants Sports Authority and Sport Chalet filing for bankruptcy in 2016 certainly didn’t help Under Armour, there were also reports that the company tried to do too much too fast resulting in a decline.
Now focused more on its own stores and online rather than discounters and department stores, Under Armour reported in early August 2021 fiscal second-quarter profit and sales that topped analysts’ estimates. Revenue increased 91% to $1.35 billion from $707.6 million a year earlier, beating estimates of $1.21 billion, while sales in North America, its largest region, rose 101% year over year to $905 million as international revenue doubled to $446 million.
“Our business is rooted in the core value of making athletes better, whether you’re pro or just starting out in youth leagues,” said Sean Eggert, Under Armour senior vice-president of global sports marketing. “Access to high-quality and elite training resources has often only been associated with professional athletes and we at Under Armour believe these opportunities should be available to all athletes looking to become better versions of themselves.
“In the long term, UA Next will be more than camps, clinics, leagues and tournaments—it will be a platform that supports the development of the next generation of youth athletes with not only just the physical performance aspect, but also their mind, body and craft.”