Are Youth Sports Dying?
As a Youth Football Coach, I have been fighting dwindling numbers for the past 5 years. Upon seeing a recent Article from USA Football highlighting a CBS report concerning Doctors speaking out against how concussions are being portrayed in the media, I was motivated to do a little research myself concerning the Athletic Association (Louisville, KY) where I coach both Football and Basketball. I was curious to see if our local decline in sports participation mirrored the national statistics (2008 – 2012) reported by the Sports and Fitness Injury Association/Physical Activity Council cited in the CBS report.
Sports and Fitness Injury Association/Physical Activity Council
Unfortunately I was only able to gather data for 2011 – 2014, but I believe it tells an interesting story nonetheless:
Athletic Association (Louisville, KY)
Note: Though the Baseball numbers are up the total number of participants are typically only 1/4 of the other sports listed and many schools in the Association failed to field teams. Overall participation of the 13 Sports that our Association offers fell 9.04% in the same time frame where the number of potential participants stayed flat.
Though the numbers don’t match they do confirm a downward trend. As I studied the numbers, I questioned why this is happening and remembered a Youth Sports Study published by Michigan State University in late 2004. In this report it named the following reasons for Youth athletes discontinuing participation:
- No longer interested.
- It was no longer fun.
- The Coach played favorites or was a poor teacher.
- Wanted to participate in other activities.
I suspect that if that study were updated today, fear of concussions would rank high on the list. As a Youth Coach, I believe I can address the first 3 items with how I manage my practices and game days, as well as continuing to strive to be a better teacher of the sports I coach. Wanting to participate in other activities on the other hand is a little tougher. Today children have so many more options than in years past from sports that have gone from being seasonal like Basketball and Baseball to year around to video games. One of the more disturbing statistics for me personally mentioned in the Sports and Fitness Injury Association/Physical Activity Council research is that youth involved in no physical activities over a 12 month period rose from 16% for 6 – 12 year-olds and 17% for 13 – 17 year-olds in 2007 to 20% and 19% respectively in 2012. Though I feel confident that the recent concussion scare has had an impact on these figures it can’t be the only reason based on the fact that Sports and Fitness Injury Association/Physical Activity Council study also shows an increase in participation of 158% and 64% for Lacrosse and Hockey respectively. According to statistics published by Head Case these sports rank near the top for risk of concussion.
So what does all of this tell me? Though I don’t have all of the answers, I don’t think it is one single factor:
- Kids are moving away from the more traditional sports of Football, Basketball, and Baseball to others like Lacrosse and Hockey.
- Kids are specializing.
- The concussion scare is both a real and sometimes convenient excuse for children choosing not to participate in sports at all.
As mentioned above, not participating in any sports is the most bothersome for me. I feel the benefits of Youth Sports far outweigh any risks. That is not to make light of the risks, but as good Youth Coaches we can mitigate the risks with education and improved teaching techniques. Looking back I can’t imagine trying to navigate my professional career without the lessons of teamwork, accountability, and facing adversity that my involvement in Youth Sports taught me. I’m worried that today’s youth will not have those same experiences and wonder how well prepared they will be when entering adulthood.
If you have any thoughts and are willing to share, please shoot me an email by using the form below.