TRIAD, N.C. – A Triad professor believes a simple fist bump has the power to potentially change the world for young athletes.
500 Fist Bumps is the brainchild of Dr. Mike Perko, a professor of public health education at UNCG. He knows the impact a child’s coach can have on their life. Perko first started coaching in 1978 and still remembers his own childhood ice hockey coach, who was there for him in an anxiety-riddled moment.
He said the idea for the 500 Fist Bumps initiative was inspired by the coach at his then-10-year-old son’s lacrosse camp.
“The coach had pulled everybody together and basically said, 'We’re going to try to get fist bumps today to recognize everybody who’s trying hard or who’s already doing really good things,'" Perko said. “Then he said, 'How many fist bumps do you think we can get in an hour?'”
One child yelled out the audacious goal of 500 fist bumps. Perko was inspired to turn that boldness into a project to build community, support and empathy.
“They’re all human beings, and they all deserve the encouragement. Not just because they scored the winning goal, but because they missed scoring the winning goal,” Perko said.
The group 500 Fist Bumps is affiliated with the Center for Athlete Well-Being at UNCG, and Perko stressed that it is critical to start focusing on that well-being at a young age. He said that touch, like a fist bump, can have positive benefits from lowering stress and blood pressure to creating a sense of connection and support.
Latoya Henderson, a parent of a 500 Fist Bumps player, said she can see the positive impact on her child.
“It pumps them up, let them know 'hey, we’re rooting for you, good job.' Or whether or not… If you’re not doing good, 'hey, I saw you,' you know? Just being seen encourages people,” Henderson said.
Perko said there are eight or nine teams that have used the 500 Fist Bumps model as of fall 2023. In the spring of 2024, he hopes the initiative will reach 9,000 to 10,000 kids through new community partnerships.