Naomi Osaka Expanding Tennis Academy to Haiti and Los Angeles: 'All Kids Deserve a Chance to Play'
Play Academy, which Naomi Osaka created with Nike and Laureus Sport for Good, originally launched in Japan last summer
Naomi Osaka is lending a helping hand to even more aspiring athletes.
The tennis superstar's Play Academy with Nike and Laureus Sport for Good — which first launched in Japan last summer — is expanding to two new locations: Los Angeles, California, and Haiti. Play Academy provides grants and capacity-building training for community organizations in order to boost girls' access to and participation in sport.
"We believe that all kids — especially girls — deserve a chance to play, no matter where they come from or what they look like," Osaka tells PEOPLE. "The more we provide girls with opportunities to get active, the more opportunities we are giving them to become leaders in their communities."
In Haiti, Play Academy will be partnering with GOALS Haiti to reach underrepresented youth. Osaka says they're hoping to "hire more female coaches, and provide girls with education to help build up their confidence, self-esteem and leadership skills."
Play Academy is still seeking community partners in Los Angeles, and aiming to focus on girl athletes from Black, Asian and Latino communities. Osaka notes that interested partners can apply at http://laureus.com/playacademyla.
Both locations have special meaning to the athlete: Los Angeles is where Osaka currently lives and trains, and Haiti is where her father is from.
Osaka's own tennis journey is, of course, part of the inspiration for Play Academy. "Growing up I dreamed about winning Grand Slams and becoming number one in the world," she recounts. "While it was not easy, my family was dedicated to helping me get the access I needed to reach my goals. But unfortunately, not all girls have the same opportunities that I did."
Continues Osaka, "There are huge barriers that girls face in getting active. Some girls, especially those from marginalized communities, never even get the chance to play. The more I learned about these barriers — through my work with Nike and Laureus Sport for Good — the more I felt determined to do something about it."
"It started with conversations and it became this incredible program working with community partners that are committed to leveling the playing field for girls."
And Osaka sees how much sports impact youth in all areas of their lives. She notes that research shows active kids are not only healthier, but happier and more confident. She hopes to be a role model for youth to see all those things are achievable.
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"Growing up, I saw my mother work incredibly hard to support me and my passion for play," says Osaka. "She always put others first and encouraged me to embrace my diversity. Every role model I've had has inspired me to dream big. To level up in every way. And while I'm still working on how to be the best role model I can be, I want to show them that I stick to my beliefs and love who I am. Then maybe one day it will help them feel confident that it's okay to be different and create their own lane – as long as they remain true to themselves."
The first group of the new Play Academy partners will be announced summer 2021.
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