Youth sports is a rite of passage for millions. In many families, it’s a tradition that’s passed between generations and creates a bond among children, parents, and even grandparents for whom sports are a way of life. However, in recent years, the American institution has started to fall on hard times. New data from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association and Aspen Institute suggest that the world of youth sports is in the midst of a crisis and faces serious challenges on three fronts: declining participation rates, under-qualified or simply unqualified coaches, and increasing costs.
Fewer and fewer children are playing youth sports on a regular basis. While 53.2% of children played team sports on a regular basis and 41.5% played individual sports on a regular basis in 2011, as of 2016, those stats have fallen to 49.8% for team sports and 36.9% for individual sports. This is leading to a precipitous drop in children’s rates of regular physical activity, with the number of kids who were deemed “active to a healthy level” steadily declining since 2011 until a steep drop in 2016 to only 24.8%. The problem here is obvious—youth sports won’t be able to continue if participation continues falling, and if so, kids will lose a vital opportunity for physical activity.
Youth sports coaches, in general, have little to no training. According to data from the Aspen Institute, the overwhelming majority of coaches lack specific training across six core essential areas: Only 32% had training in basic safety and injury prevention, 29% had training in basic first aid and CPR, 31% had training in sports skills and tactics, and 31% had training in sports skills and strategy. It’s imperative that coaches receive more training so that they can create a welcoming, safe, and positive experience for youth athletes.
The expenses associated with youth sports have skyrocketed in recent years. Certain youth leagues may cost as much as $2,000 for a single season, and some parents are willing to pay additional fees for top-quality gear and private lessons on the side. In fact, this is contributing to a phenomenon known as “up and out” in which children are priced out of youth sports as they get older and the costs increase. As the Washington Post points out, “children from low-income households are half as likely to play one day’s worth of team sports than children from households earning at least $100,000.” All children deserve the opportunity to play youth sports regardless of their family’s financial standing, so these costs need to be reigned in.