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
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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