Norway has a successful youth sports system, accessible to all. The national lottery earmarks millions for youth sports every year
By Ken Reed
Originally published by Troy Media
I’ve been a youth sports coach for 17 years. For the most part, it’s been very rewarding. However, one of the hardest aspects has been watching kids drop out of sports because they no longer can afford to pay to play. It’s heartbreaking.
Social injustice is a hot topic these days. However, there’s one area of social injustice that doesn’t receive much attention: youth sports. Youth sports impacts millions of kids and their families.
Sadly, youth sports are far from an equal opportunity endeavour in the United States and Canada. Sport increasingly has become a pay-to-play endeavour. Household wealth is a key factor in youth sports participation.
“Sports in America have separated into sports-haves and have-nots,” said Tom Farrey, the executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society program.
An annual survey by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) in 2018 found that 33.4 per cent of kids ages six to 12 from homes with income of $25,000 or less were physically inactive (i.e., didn’t participate in any sport during the year), compared to just 9.9 per cent of kids from households that earned $100,000-plus.
And the youth sports opportunity gap is widening during the pandemic. Children of higher-income parents are spending about 2.5 more hours a week in sports activities during the pandemic than kids in lower-income families (before COVID-19, the gap was about 40 minutes per week).
Kids from homes with higher incomes participate via travel teams, expensive sports clubs, personalized training programs, elite sports leagues, etc. These opportunities are simply out of reach of poor children.
Moreover, due to the advent and growth of youth sports clubs and travel teams, relatively inexpensive youth sports opportunities – traditionally run by local recreation districts and YMCAs – are drying up.
On top of that, public schools are dropping recess, physical education classes and intramural sports programs. And many public schools now require kids to pay to play on school sports teams.
Physically active kids have longer life expectancies, better mental and physical health, better academic performance, and less drug abuse.
Girls, in particular, benefit from athletic participation. Sports participation lowers the chances of developing heart disease and breast cancer, cuts rates of unplanned pregnancies, lessens obesity, and boosts self-confidence and body self-esteem. And the advantages extend into adulthood: Four out of five female business executives played sports as kids.
All those benefits are missing for children who lack sports opportunities because they can’t afford to play in today’s expensive club sports culture. The casualties of this culture tend to become less and less physically active through their teen years and into adulthood, which negatively impacts their future physical, mental and economic health.
It’s another – albeit less publicized – American story of unequal opportunity.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We could prioritize broad sports participation over expensive elite athletics, especially at younger ages.
For example, Norway has a successful youth sports system, accessible to all. The national lottery earmarks millions of dollars for youth sports every year. As such, the financial burden on parents is minimal. Moreover, Norwegian youth leagues value participation over competition. As evidence, clubs with athletes below the age of 13 aren’t allowed to publish game scores. If they do, they risk expulsion.
Norway’s elite sports teams certainly don’t suffer under such egalitarian policies. At the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics, the country won 39 medals – the most of any country in the history of the Olympics. The United States won only 23. Norway’s population is 5.37 million and the United States’ is 328.2 million.
In this new era of reforming American institutions in the quest for social justice, when it comes to youth sports, the Norwegian model is one Americans should look long and hard at.
— Ken Reed is sports policy director for League of Fans, a sports reform project. He is the author of The Sports Reformers, Ego vs. Soul in Sports, and How We Can Save Sports.
Sports Forum Podcast
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, with over 150 camps in 30+ U.S. states and Canada. We discuss problems in youth sports today, including single sport specialization, the growing gap between the “haves” and “have-nots,” the high drop-out rate in competitive sports, and the growing mental health challenges young athletes are dealing with today.
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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.
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.”
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.
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.
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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