By Ken Reed

Most children stop playing organized sports between the ages of 11 and 13. The reason most often cited by kids is it’s no longer fun. The reason it’s no longer fun? Adults.

There’s too much “adult” in youth sports.

Overbearing win-at-all-costs coaches and parents are driving kids to the sidelines. In 2008, kids’ (6-12 years old) sports participation stood at 45%. By 2021 that number was down to 37%.

“It’s so adult-dominated,” says Tom Farrey, founder and executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program. “It’s designed by adults for adults.” Reform is “a challenge because there’s a lot of money to be made.”

Adults create private sports leagues, camps, travel teams and showcase tournaments that are very profitable for them, but also very expensive for kids and their parents. Many kids are left out of youth Sportsworld because of economic reasons.

According to government data from 2020-21, 67.7% of children ages 6 to 17 from the wealthiest families played organized sports. Only 33.9% of kids from poorer homes participated.

“There are two main issues,” Dionne Koller, director of the Center for Sport and the Law at the University of Baltimore School of Law, said.

“One [issue] is exclusion and the barriers to entry because youth sport is heavily privatized and it’s extremely expensive and hard to access for lots and lots of kids. For the ones who do get into youth sport, we have another set of problems. Those break down along what is referred to as the professionalization of youth sports.”

That’s right. The professionalization of youth sports comes about due to the win-at-all-costs (WAAC) and profit-at-all-costs (PAAC) mentalities of the adults involved in the industry.

Declining youth sports participation is a glaring societal health problem because research shows fit children are physically, mentally and behaviorally healthier than their unfit peers.

Yes, it goes beyond declining sports participation numbers. The number of physical education classes is also declining in the United States. Some school kids never even have to take a single P.E. class these days.

Recess time is also being cut. Our children are less physically active today in every way, not just in the sports and physical education realms.

American kids rank 47th out of 50 countries in fitness levels.

As a society, we must be more determined, and creative, in finding ways to get children consistently moving more, whether that’s through sports or other physical activities.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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