According to an annual report from the Sport & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), less and less kids are playing youth sports. The percentage of children from ages 6 to 12 who played a team or individual sport at least one day during the year has decreased from 73% to 69.1% from 2011 to 2017. The biggest drop off seems to be the percentage of children playing team sports on a regular basis, falling from 41.5% to 37%, while participation in individual sports, such as tennis, martial arts, skate boarding, and golf, has decreased by 3.9% from 2011 to 2017.
Since childhood obesity rates have more than tripled since the 1970s, these trends are seen as a concern by many.
One of the more recent large-scale studies on the matter was conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2016. They found that the rate of obesity in kids aged from 6 to 9 was almost 1 in 5 (18.5%) in the United States. It’s a much-discussed issue. An issue that the World Health Organization has called, “one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century.”
There are several factors contributing to this trend. These include unhealthy diet habits and lack of sleep, but a lack of physical activity is certainly a factor.
There are several theories as to why less kids are taking part in organized sports. Many are point to the finances involved with participating. For instance, sport participation for families earning less than $75,000 annually has decreased since 2011, while participation for families earning more has increased. The SFIA report found that 7 out of 10 children participated in sports when their families made over $100,000 a year, while at the other end of the spectrum, families making less than $25,000 a year, only had about a 3 out of 10 participation rate.
One reason behind this disparity could lie in the high costs of competing in organized sports. A recent study by RAND Corporation found that in many communities, public school sport budgets haven’t seen increases in years, despite the rising costs and fees of operating such sports. This often leaves the child’s family the job to help pay the difference, leading to lower participation rates among lower-income families.
There are also the high costs associated with equipment, trainers, and traveling for games, further limiting sport opportunities for lower-income families.
Another theory points to enjoyment. According to a poll from the National Alliance for Youth Sports, around 70 percent of kids in the US opt out of organized sports by the age of 13 because it’s not fun anymore.
This theory is also supported by a 2014 study for George Washington University, researcher Amanda Visik. This study found that 90% of youth athletes stated in interviews that the #1 reason they played sports was because it was fun!
The children in the George Washington study defined fun as trying their best, being treated respectfully by coaches, parents and teammates, and getting playing time.
The Aspen Institute is trying to combat the trend with their Don’t Retire, Kid campaign. It’s a campaign aimed at kids and their parents meant to help parents decide what is best for their child. They’ve released a series of public service announcements to draw attention to their website, www.projectplay.us, a site with a substantial amount of resources for parents and caregivers. There goal is to guide parents on how to get their kid to keep playing and, more importantly, enjoying sports.