Youth Sports

What’s Causing The Decline Of Youth Sports?

Youth SportsParticipation in sports – competitive, casual or spectating – has always been an important socializing experience in US culture. But recent statistics show that fewer children are playing sports, leaving the future of athletics unclear.

The four most popular sports in the US – baseball, football, basketball, and soccer – are experiencing a sharp decline in participation among children 6 through 17 years old since 2008.

Baseball: A recent Wall Street Journal article declared that participation is diminishing for youth baseball, forcing leagues to play teams from surrounding areas, merge with nearby leagues, or disband altogether. No matter the choice, participating in youth baseball becomes less easily accessible to the casual player.

Football: Once an integral part of American culture, youth football participation has experienced a decline of almost 10 percent due to safety concerns.

Basketball: According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, over the course of the 2008-09 season, high school basketball participation fell approximately 1.8 percent.

Soccer: Even Soccer, which has seen significant gains in popularity in recent decades, has now begun to experience stagnation in youth soccer participation between 2008 and 2012 according to the US Soccer Federation.

Although the explanation behind these rapid declines is unexplained, experts have begun accusing everything from costs to increasing social pressure.

Missing The Element Of Fun

Executive Director of the National Youth Sports Health & Safety Institute, Michael Bergeron cites lack of fun as the main culprit. “We have to be aware of single sport specialization, overuse, overworking kids searching for the elite athletes; all of these things are causing kids to leave youth sport and not return.”

Today, millions of parents hope to prepare their young athletes for college scholarships, encouraging them to specialize in one specific sport at an early age. But by specializing too young, athletes are at risk for not only future physical overuse injuries, but also emotional and psychological consequences. Focusing solely on one sport can cause young players to put immense pressure on themselves to excel at that one activity, potentially leading to psychological burnout, depression, chronic fatigue and more.

Rising Costs

The cost of participating in youth sports has been spiraling out of control over recent years. Nearly two thirds of middle school and high school students participating in sports paid to do so in 2012. In addition to participation costs, the price of equipment has followed suit and increased from 2013 to 2014. Lacrosse equipment alone saw a projected increase of 5.7 percent in one year.

According to the New York Times, spending on sports has grown to almost 10.5 percent of gross income. Although some families may be able to handle the additional financial burden, low income families are being forced out of the game.

Safety Precautions

Media coverage and research studies have begun highlighting the long-term impact of concussions for not only professionals, but youth athletes. Over 70 former professional football players were diagnosed with a rare brain disorder as a result of head injuries from their pasts.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that emergency room visits for concussions among young athletes ages 8 to 13 has doubled, and concussions among teens ages 14 to 19 have risen 200 percent in the last decade alone. As a result, worried parents are pulling their children from the sport in favor of safer alternatives.

Competition Isn’t So Friendly

The Associated Press declared youth sports an “athletic arms race,” increasingly competitive yet lessening in popularity. Although kids might be interested in participating in an activity, roster spots are exclusive. This leads to an increased competition, especially at younger ages. As a result, more kids will give up a sport sooner because they fear not making the team or missing out on playing time as they get older.

Is your local sports organization encouraging higher rates of participation?

Share in the comments below what mechanisms you’re using to combat the shrinking participation rates!

General, Youth Sports


Kris Baker

Kris Baker is the President of Demosphere and has been serving the Youth Sports Community since 2006.