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.)
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.” We discuss overzealous adults in youth sports, the dangers of sport specialization, youth sports entrepreneurs and the profit-at-all-costs mindset, and the growing socio-economic gap in youth sports.
Follow on Facebook: @SportsForumPodcast
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Episode #23 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Olympian Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Talks Title IX, Youth Sports and the Olympics.
Episode #22 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Rethinking Sports Fandom with Author Craig Calcaterra – We discuss Calcaterra’s new book “Rethinking Fandom: How to Beat the Sports-Industrial Complex at Its Own Game” and explore new ways to be a fan.
Episode #21 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Chatting About a Broken Game With Baseball Writer Pedro Moura – Moura is a national baseball writer for Fox Sports. We discuss how and why the game of baseball is broken, what factors caused it, and offer a few thoughts on how to “fix” a great game.
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.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
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.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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