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


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