By Ken Reed

The Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program has released a report card on the state of youth sports in the United States, titled State of Play: 2016.

The report card’s overall grade for youth sports in America was a C-.

The report looked at eight areas of youth sports and gave grades for each. Here they are:

1 – Ask Kids What They Want: Understanding the needs of kids and building their voice into the decision-making process around youth sports (D)

2 – Reintroduce Free Play: Making room for less-structured activity (D+)

3 – Encourage Sport Sampling: Exposing kids to a variety of sports, and not asking them to specialize early in any one sport (C-)

4 – Revitalize In-Town Leagues:Supporting community-based options (C)

5 – Think Small: Being creative in the use and development of play spaces (C)

6 – Design for Development: Delivering age-appropriate programs (C-)

7 – Train All Coaches: Training in key competencies in working with kids (C-)

8 – Emphasize Prevention: Preventing brain and other injuries (C-)

A couple troubling things stood out to me.

One, the overall lack of sufficiently trained coaches in the areas of safety, training and education. This is obviously a problem when it comes to the wellbeing of our young athletes but it’s also a problem when it comes to burnout and dropout. The Aspen Institute’s Project Play research showed that only 5% of youth athletes that played for adequately trained coaches quit the sport the next year while the overall attrition rate was 26%.

Two, on the criteria “Ask Kids What They Want,” the grade was a D. The description for this criterion was “Understanding the needs of kids and building their voice into the decision-making process around youth sports.” A “D” grade in this area is shameful. It reinforces my belief that “there’s way too much adult in youth sports.” In survey after survey, kids say having fun in sports is their top priority but youth coaches continually put fun way down the list and place winning on top of the list. All youth sports coaches need to better understand the whole person development needs of the young people they are leading. Part of that development is giving them a voice.

Everyone involved in youth sports — coaches, parents, administrators, policymakers, etc. — should take a look at this report (PDF).

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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