By Ken Reed
We recently wrote about the sad state of youth sports in America. The problems we touched on are all adult-based, driven by win-at-all-costs (WAAC) and profit-at-all-costs (PAAC) ethos.
The overall situation is even worse than what we discussed in that piece. HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel recently had an excellent segment on the growing youth sports participation gap.
It highlights the “two-tier system” in the United States when it comes to sports for kids. The driving force is the growing cost of participation, which is pricing out millions of kids whose parents can’t afford the exorbitant fees for club and travel teams, as well as various elite sports training programs.
As the HBO feature pointed out, it’s estimated that $17 billion will be spent on youth sports this year. Many parents now spend $10,000+ per child, per year, on youth sports activities. If you want your kid trained by an elite-level coach it will cost you $150-$175 an hour.
As a result, a ton of kids are simply being priced out of the game. Total participation in youth sports in the United States has dropped 8% in just a decade.
To make things worse, community recreation and school budgets for PE and sports are being slashed. Due to financial reasons, and just as importantly, an obsessive focus on standardized testing, physical education (gym class) has almost disappeared. Intramural school sports have disappeared. The result is low-income kids have very few sports participation opportunities today. The only hope for some kids is if local charities and non-profits, like local churches, offer some type of sports options. Even if they do, the coaching skills and facilities are a far cry from what wealthier kids get to experience in the growing club sports industry.
Ironically, middle school and high school sports participation rates are dropping, even when cost isn’t a huge factor. The reason? Kids that haven’t been playing highly competitive sports in club programs or elite travel leagues since second or third grade discover that they simply can’t compete in middle school and high school with the club athletes and quit. The message these kids have received since they were very young is “If you’re not good enough to play sports at a high level you shouldn’t be playing.” Sad.
In past decades, through PE classes, school intramural sports, and low-cost community recreation programs, every kid who wanted to play sports could, and was encouraged to do so. Not today.
Too often, the kids left behind end up on their couches at home eating junk food and playing video games.
When that happens, the health costs to all Americans rise, as the childhood obesity and inactivity rates skyrocket.
It’s a situation that needs to be addressed. Now.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #10 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: An Issues Discussion With Paul Dolan – Dolan is the Cleveland Indians Owner and CEO. He discusses the use of Native American names and logos by sports teams and the decisions to drop the Chief Wahoo logo and the upcoming change to the team name. Other baseball topics include health and safety, possible MLB rule changes and youth participation in the sport.
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Episode #9 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports Issues With Ralph Nader – Nader is a consumer advocate and was named one of the “100 Most Influential Americans of the 20th Century” by Time magazine. He is the founder of League of Fans.
Episode #8 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Save College Sports From Overcommercialization and Professionalization? – The guest is Dr. David Ridpath, a sports business professor and past president of the Drake Group
Episode #7 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Brain Trauma and CTE Risk in Sports With Dr. Ann McKee – Dr. McKee works in the field of neuropathology and has demonstrated that “mild” repetitive head trauma can provoke chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a devastating neurodegenerative disease.
Episode #6 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Need for Quality Physical Education in Our Schools is Greater Than Ever – The guest is Clayton Ellis, one of our nation’s leading advocates for getting our young people to be more physically active.
Episode #5 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Youth Sports with Positive Coaching Alliance Founder Jim Thompson – Thompson started Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) in 1998 to help create a movement to transform the culture of youth sports from “win-at-all-costs” to a positive, character-building experience.
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.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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.
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