By Ken Reed
Get this: Some parents are spending more than 10% of their family income on youth sports expenses like registration fees, travel, camps, personal trainers, equipment, etc., according to a recent Time article.
The parents of one 10-year-old baseball player say they’ve already spent $30,000 on his baseball career. Another dad says he spent $20,000 in one year on his daughter’s volleyball expenses.
Yes, the days of playing on your neighborhood little league team, riding your bike to practice, and playing ball with kids in your community are gone. That notion of kids sports seems quaint in today’s highly professionalized and commercialized youth sports world.
Yep, kids sports have gone pro. Youth sports is now a $15.3 billion industry, according to WinterGreen Research.
There are a lot of negatives on the path of professionalized and commercialized youth sports. For example:
– Club fees and travel costs are pricing out lower income families. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, 41% of children from households earning $100,000 or more have participated in team sports. That figure is only 19% for households with income of $25,000 or less.
– Kids with less talent are being pushed out of organized sports at earlier and earlier ages as the focus shifts to elite athletes and travel club teams. That’s a dangerous trend because it results in more inactive kids in an age of childhood obesity.
– Multi-sport participation is down and specialization is up. The average number of sports played by children 6 to 17 has dropped for three straight years. Numerous studies have found that children that specialize in one sport suffer more burnout, have more injuries, and quit sports at earlier ages.
– As family funds spent on youth sports go up so does the pressure on young athletes, who sense the investment parents are making in them.
“When the product they see on the field does not live up to their perceived notion of the value of their investment, they get upset at the kids, the coaches, and at the schools and clubs. They want their moneys worth.”
– Youth sports entrepreneurs (or vultures in some cases) are milking the unsuspecting parents of non-athletic kids for thousands of dollars by constantly talking about college athletic scholarships. Many of these kids will be lucky to see varsity high school action let alone play in college.
What’s driving this booming industry? Primarily, the dream of an athletic scholarship for college.
And that’s where dreams intersect with reality. Only about 2% of high school athletes ever play NCAA Division I sports. Moreover, the number of full-ride scholarship athletes is significantly lower than that, as many college sports programs divide scholarships up among several athletes.
“I’ve seen parents spend a couple of hundred thousand dollars pursuing a college scholarship,” says Travis Dorsch, founding director of the Families in Sports Lab at Utah State University. “They could’ve set it aside for the damn college.”
Meanwhile, ethically-challenged youth sports entrepreneurs are milking these kids and their parents in any way imaginable. Consider but one example: The United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) holds youth tournaments around the nation, and also puts out rankings of youth teams in basketball, baseball and softball. Softball ranking start at age 6 and under and baseball rankings start at age 4 and under. This organization apparently sees no problem exploiting youngsters that still believe in Santa Claus. According to IRS filings, USSSA pulled in $13.7 million in revenue in 2015 and the CEO took home $831,200 in compensation.
The professionalization and commercialization of youth sports might be good for a small percentage of kids, but for our society as a whole, the negatives certainly outweigh the positives.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
(Note: HBO’s Real Sports recently had a compelling segment on the youth sports industry called “Youth Sports, Inc.”. It’s worth a look.)
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Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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