Play Research and Youth Practitioner Awards

The U.S. Play Coalition is proud of its annual awards program, recognizing outstanding play research and youth practitioners. First awarded at the 2017 Conference on the Value of Play, our awards program honors exceptional individuals each year.


The 2021 Play Award winners will receive a physical award, social media coverage and free full conference registration for the 2021 VIRTUAL Conference on the Value of Play*. Given that we are virtual this year, our 2021 Award Winner will ALSO receive free conference registration for our in-person 2022 Play Conference! (Travel, lodging and other fees not included.)

*Note that registration fees will be refunded if the winner is already registered.

Deadline for 2021 nominations for both of our award categories is 12:00pm (noon) EST on March 26.

Joe L. Frost Award for Distinguished Research

The Joe L. Frost Award for Distinguished Research is given annually in recognition of a body of exceptional research that has enhanced and expanded the study of play.

Dr. Joe L. Frost, Ed.D, L.H.D., was one of America’s leading experts on play and playgrounds and has a global reputation as the contemporary father of play advocacy. He is the Parker Centennial Professor Emeritus at The University of Texas at Austin with a passion for children’s play and play spaces.

Frost was influential in the creation of the U.S. Play Coalition, serving as a steering committee member since the coalition’s beginning in 2009. He served as moderator that year at the coalition’s first conference – then called the Summit on the Value of Play –and has been an honorary chair for each successive play conference.

Previous Joe L. Frost Award for Distinguished Research Recipients:

2020 – Stuart Brown, M.D., founder and president of the National Institute for Play and nationally renowned author, consultant and play expert.  Dr. Brown’s book: Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul has been translated into twelve languages.

2019 – Lynn A. Barnett, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Recreation, Sport & Tourism at the University of Illinois and Fellow in the Academy of Leisure Sciences.

2018 – Olga Jarrett, Ph.D., Professor Emerita of early childhood/science education at Georgia State University, evaluator of an NSF project in Belize, and a past president of The Association for the Study of Play and the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play.

2017 – The inaugural Joe L. Frost Award for Distinguished Research was presented to its namesake – Joe L. Frost, Ed. D., the contemporary father of play advocacy.


YLI Youth Development Practitioner Award

The U.S. Play Coalition teams up annually with Clemson University’s Youth Learning Institute to present the Youth Development Practitioner Award. The award recognizes outstanding performance in the creation and implementation of youth development programs or services.

“There are many deserving practitioners across the nation, and our goal is to bring recognition to this field of service,” said Stephen Lance, executive director of the Youth Learning Institute.

Previous YLI Youth Development Practitioner Award Recipients:

2020 – Jessica Hentoff, is artistic/executive director of Circus Harmony, a St. Louis based non-profit that uses circus arts to motivate social change.  It is both an arts education and a youth development organization.

2019 – Flo Brett, founder of the Effective Leadership Academy (Warrensville Heights, OH).  The Academy and its 135 partners (and counting) has helped more than 20,000 students learn “real world” skills they need to be successful after they graduate.

2018 – Pat “The Play Lady”Rumbaugh, is co-founder of Let’s Play America. She founded the organization TakomaPlays! in Takoma Park, Maryland, in March 2009. TakomaPlays! is now part of Let’s Play America.

2017 – Dan Mathews, chief operating officer at Camp Twin Lakes, a Georgia-based organization that provides camp experiences for children with serious illnesses, disabilities and other life challenges.  According to his nomination, Dan is “a champion for all youth using play as the center of his outstanding leadership and tireless efforts in furthering development, access, and professionalism of the field of youth-development…He is an excellent standard bearer for the inaugural Youth Development Practitioner Award.”