Despite the nation’s obsession with sports, there is a growing problem when it comes to youth sports: a decline in youth sports participation and the healthy habits and bodies that go with it.
According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), more than 21 million kids between the ages of 6 and 17 play team sports on a regular basis. Another five million are engaged on a part-time basis. Participation is highest before kids reach their teenaged years, when a general decline begins.
Most alarming, however, is that there also is a decline in youth sports participation across all age groups. Consider that in 2014 nearly 20 percent of kids were deemed inactive; that number swelled to more than 37 percent just a year later.
Part of this decline is being blamed on the nation’s sedentary culture, meaning kids are mimicking their parents and sitting out the playground and sports in favor of online games and smartphones. Across all age groups, nearly 82 million Americans were considered inactive.
But other factors were also listed, including:
- A growing trend of forcing kids to specialize at one sport at increasingly early ages. The result: more and more kids are alienated from particular sports because they can’t keep up.
- The high cost of specialty clubs, camps, and trainers that price out lower income families (activity levels decline with income levels).
- Parents’ fears about safety – particularly related to concussions – keeping kids out of sports that risk contact, including football, basketball, and soccer.
- Poor quality or behavior of coaches, who place too much emphasis on winning and are helping to drive the specialization trend.
- Commitments in cost and time.
Health Benefits Outweigh Risks
While all of these concerns have merit, the truth is that the advantages of youth sports far outweigh their risks, and many education and child health experts warn that a continued decline in participation will result in even greater levels of childhood obesity, diabetes, and other health problems – most of which already stand at epidemic levels.
The United States, for example, already suffers the highest percentage of obese youth compared to 15 other developed nations. Between the ages of 5 and 17, nearly 40 percent of girls and 35 percent of boys are obese. (An individual is considered obese when body fat indices are at least 32% in females and 25% in males.)
And non-active children don’t just suffer physically. Numerous studies demonstrate the academic benefits of active lifestyles and team sports. Kids who play sports or spend a minimum of 60 minutes a day in physical activity are twice as likely to get straight-As as their less active counterparts.