By Ken Reed
The gulf between the economic haves and have-nots continues to grow in youth sports world.
Parents of youth sports athletes are now spending between $30 billion and $40 billion annually on youth sports activities, according to research by the Aspen Institute.
However, kids in impoverished areas are often being left on the sidelines. AAU teams, club programs, travel teams, showcase tournaments, sport-specific trainers, etc. They are all expensive activities that marginalized kids too often don’t get to experience.
Making matters worse, the community programs that a lot of these lower economic class kids once participated in are shutting down as pricey club programs simultaneously proliferate. According to Aspen Institute research, three out of 10 parents said their child’s community program had either closed, joined with another organization or operated with less capacity than last year. Meanwhile, the number of kids participating in club/travel teams doubled to 29 percent over the past year.
The overarching quest for youth sports parents these days continues to be landing a college athletic scholarship for their children — despite the long odds. Some parents in lower economic classes have started to sacrifice spending in other areas — including house and car payments — in order to give their kids the experience kids from wealthier families are getting.
“It definitely mirrors trends nationally in our society in which families in the highest income category have experiences and access to a sustained experience that peers in the lower end of the income category do not. And that only seems to be growing,” said Tom Farrey, executive director of the Aspen Institutes’s Sports & Society Program. “When you look at the industry of youth sports, it is an industry. It is business interests first … It’s not interest of the child first, and so money chases money.”
It’s not just the community programs,typically sponsored by local parks and recreation districts, that are disappearing. Public schools have almost completely dropped intramural sports programs. The result is non-elite athletes who simply love to play sports have very few sports options today.
And unfortunately, that fact is increasingly contributing to the growing physical and mental health crises our young people are dealing with today.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
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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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