Last updateWed, 28 Feb 2018 12pm

Ask the Experts

Game Off

While visiting my son at school, I noticed much less sports activity than when I was a student. Why aren’t young people playing sports?

This is a growing concern in today’s culture, because youth sports participation is on the decline. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, the number of kids that played a team sport on a regular basis decreased from 44.5 percent in 2008 to 40 percent in 2013, and that number has been on the decline ever since. These red flags emphasize the severity of the U.S. ‘inactivity pandemic’.

The statistics speak for themselves with reports claiming that youth participation in Little Leagues across America declined from 3 million in the 1990s to 2.4 million in 2012, and is still falling. Baseball is just one sport that kids are quitting or just not picking up, underlying a sense that sports in general has become too demanding.

Parents are claiming that there is just too much competition in school sports leagues now and fewer opportunities for development and recreation. According to a report in the WSJ, participation in all sports has dropped by 9% nationwide over the past five years. Further figures from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association are broken down into individual sports with soccer declining 7.1%, baseball 7.2% and basketball 8.3%. Ice hockey and lacrosse conversely showed increases in uptake.

Previous generations traditionally played in free local sports leagues needing just softball bats and gloves, but the last two decades have seen a rise in elite leagues where kids travel to play better teams across the nation. This is estimated to be a $5 billion industry. Parents are struggling to afford participation in such leagues which excludes a lot of kids. The level of competition fragments as a result leaving the best players, with the more affluent parents, in the elite leagues and everyone else in the city leagues.

There are also time constraints with some teams running year-round training, demanding a lot of commitment. Elite youth baseball leagues are a year-round affair and football coaches run their teams like college squads. Parents face the decision of what kind of experience they want to give their kids in what is increasingly becoming an all-or-nothing situation.

Sports injuries amongst young players are on the rise, according to family physicians. Playing is becoming more competitive which results in more serious injuries. There are a lot more games now than in previous years and the skill levels are higher, which puts more wear and tear on young bodies. An ESPN report on kids that quit sports revealed that almost 30% did so as a result of health or injury.

Concerns over the decline in sports are also health related. With a nationwide obesity epidemic, kids need to be encouraged to develop good health and fitness habits through the participation in sports. Research indicates that dedication to sports also helps in reducing crime in communities.

A movement of parents, coaches and organizations is aiming to make high school youth sports accessible to every kid. It should be more focused on valuable recreation instead of competitive channels to professional sports.

Winning isn't everything, but wanting to win is... Vince Lombardi Jr.

Suzanne Hite is a former publications editor serving the technology services sector.

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