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


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