TRENDS IN SPORTS: New Study Suggests Fewer Kids Are Playing Sports

A new study was just released this past week which  suggests that fewer kids between the ages of 6-12 are participating in sports. In fact, the number of kids playing organized team sports has dropped by a stunning 8 percent over the last decade.

Now, if this is really true, that is quite a drop off. And it’s very troubling.

The study comes from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association and the Aspen Institute. They claims that back in 2008, 45 percent of kids ages 6-12 played in team sports. But in 2017, that number has dropped down to only 37 percent.

Why the decline? The leading theory put forth by these two groups is that because travel teams have become so well accepted as the vehicle for kids to get ahead, it’s now become a case of  financial “haves and have nots”when it come to youth sports.

“Sports in America have separated into sport-haves and have-nots,” said Tom Farrey, executive director of Aspen’s Sports & Society program. The group released its research at its annual Project Play Summit on Wednesday in Washington and it was reported in the Washington Post. “All that matters is if kids come from a family that has resources. If you don’t have money, it’s hard to play.”

The conclusion that they are putting forth is that because youth sports have become so expensive in this country, that it’s increasingly becoming strictly the domain of the affluent. That is, that unless a kid comes from a household which makes at least $100,000 a year, it’s going to be very difficult for a youngster to pursue sports on a travel team.

As a result, kids from poorer families are just giving up team sports.

First off, I sure hope that isn’t the case. And let me just say this: while there might be a grain of truth in that theory, in my opinion, it’s a very small grain. If anything, in my observations, kids from less fortunate economic families are even more eager to make a travel team and to chase their dreams in sports than kids who come from more comfortable backgrounds and have other options. In effect, sports is exceedingly important to gaining that college scholarship or to go pro.

Furthermore, many travel programs like to boast that one’s economic status shouldn’t be a concern – that if a family needs some financial help, the travel program will waive fees and the like. In other words, if the kid is a really good athlete, then the travel team will somehow come up with the finances for that kid to be on the team.

So, in short, I don’t know if that theory of haves and have-nots really is the reason why the enrollment numbers are shrinking. True, one caller this AM said he has two boys playing on separate travel baseball teams, and the total cost runs more than $5,000 a year. That’s indeed an issue, and one that squarely needs to be addressed by travel team programs who can pretty much charge whatever they want for a kid to participate.

AN ALTERNATIVE THEORY

Here’s another theory which I propose: Do you think that kids today are walking away from sports at increasingly younger ages because the kids realize early on that they are not the ones chosen first, or who aren’t a lock to make the travel team? And as a result, rather than play on the local rec team, they just give up and walk away from sports.

I hate to even suggest that, but I think that might explain the so-called drop off in kids playing sports.

In other words, if the kid senses that they are not going to be a star, why bother? And their parents – also recognizing that their kid is only average in athletic ability — they allow their youngster to walk away from sports. I mean, why spend all that time, money, and effort with your 1o or 11 year old if they’re not going to become a top player?

That might sound strange, but I fear that’s the kind of philosophical approach more and more sports parents are taking. And if true, what a shame. Kids under the age of 12 haven’t gone through adolescence yet, they haven’t had a chance to learn about the key and essential “life lessons” that team sports can offer, e.g. learning from adversity, learning how to be on a team, and so on. These are vital lessons.

But if the kids are walking away, those lessons are lost to them. What a shame.