Picture a youth sport where every participant is actively involved, where there is constant motion and the level of physical exercise outstanding, where kids get to play both offense and defense with ample opportunities to ‘touch’ the ball. The game, of course, is basketball, and these are just some of the reasons why basketball is #1 with kids.
According to ESPN and other sources, over the past decade basketball has risen in popularity with both boys and girls, and there are no signs that trend will change anytime soon. A key reason for its popularity: action.
“My favorite sport is basketball,” says 13-year-old Lamar, one of the better players on his local Northern Virginia travel team, “You never stop and there’s tons of chances to do something important.” That need for ‘action,’ says youth sports experts, is precisely why basketball is so popular with girls and boys alike.
Reason #1: Action and Lots of It
Compared to baseball, for example, where every play is channeled through the pitcher and a player may only bat once every three innings (less if he/she is substituted), basketball provides a never-ending opportunity to be engaged on every play.
Similarly, football involves heavy scripting of each player’s role on a particular play, with actual engagement with the ball involving at most two players on offense. For example, a ‘loose ball’ in football where every player has a shot at the ball is an exceedingly rare fumble; in basketball it’s a commonplace missed shot/rebound.
Reason #2: Playing Both Sides of the Contest
Even in sports with plentiful action that parallels basketball, such as lacrosse, soccer, or hockey, players are limited to playing either offense or defense. Only basketball requires kids to play both ends of the court. This results in kids learning to be far more nuanced in their understanding and approach to the game, since dribbling, passing, and shooting are coupled with defending, positioning, rebounding, blocking and stealing.
Reason #3: Exercise, Energy, Endorphins
Kids love exercise, especially when it’s ‘hidden’ within a competitive sport. Children’s bodies produce the same endorphins – the so-called ‘runner’s high’ – that adults come to crave from exercise, and as a result active kids are not just happier kids but also better students.
Reason #4: Ease of Play
While it’s true that basketball becomes more sophisticated with age, for young kids in particular the barriers to entry are minimal. Sneakers, a hoop and a ball are all that is needed, and most kids quickly pick up on the basic rules of play, foremost among them to put the ball through the hoop for instant gratification. Even in countries like Canada celebrated for its hockey, basketball has become the most popular youth sport, in large part because of its accessibility.
Reason #5: Parents’ Love of the Sport
While there are no statistics on the youth sports parents love most, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest parents are big fans of basketball as well. It is safer than football, more active (and much shorter in duration) than baseball, exclusively indoors (inclement weather is no problem), outstanding exercise for children in an era when childhood obesity is at epidemic levels, affordable (especially compared to football, hockey, lacrosse, etc.), and popular with their kids. And kids, of course, pick up on whatever makes their parents happy, making basketball a win-win. (It’s also one of the more affordable sports – unless you start traveling to out-of-state tournaments of course.)