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Mass Exodus From Youth Sports Reaching Crisis Level

We all remember playing youth sports. Whether it was baseball, soccer or little league football, it was a part of our childhood. It meant something to us.

Well, this is a different generation, and the desire to play youth sports has faltered in recent years. Apparently, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the mass exodus from children wanting to participate on a sports team.

But it isn’t as it would seem. COVID-19 is not really the problem.

The problem is a significant portion of the children who had their primary sport sidelined due to the pandemic don’t have any interest in returning. Even with things starting to get back to normal, most kids would rather do something else.

Parents still want their children to play. They’re more willing now than ever to throw money at these sports. But our youth is choosing a different path — or at least some of them are.

The Aspen Institute’s Project Play recently held a survey, and the results were scary.

The number of parents saying their kids aren’t interested in sports is up 10 percent from a few months ago. That number was originally at 19 percent in June, but it has climbed to almost a third (29%) — or three out of 10. The global pandemic has contributed to the decline in numbers, but it’s going beyond that.

“That’s a frightening number for the viability of the youth sports system,” said Dr. Travis Dorsch, the founding director of the Families in Sport Lab at Utah State University.

The number of hours spent on participation in sports is also on the decline. It has essentially been cut in half, going from 13.6 hours prior to the pandemic all the way down to 7.2 hours. Everything is down, and it’s alarming.

Some people will still try to attribute the steep decline to COVID-19. But parents aren’t citing fear or danger as a reason their children don’t want to return. They’re citing a lack of interest.

Forcing children to stay home and allowing them to play video games or watch TV throughout the pandemic might have a lasting, permanent affect. When you’re young, you mostly want play and have fun with friends — or that is the way it used to be.

But it’s a new age, and what kids define as “fun” differs from when we were younger.

The world is becoming more reclusive, and the way we communicate, operate and live continues to change drastically. Some of those changes are a good thing, but there is undeniable value in playing sports.

Playing team sports at a young age teaches kids discipline. It teaches patience, teamwork and overcoming obstacles. It keeps kids out of trouble. It’s a staple of our society, and it’s unfortunate to see more and more kids moving away from it.

We live in a different world today.

The entire study is quite fascinating. It’s definitely something worth checking out if you have time.

Follow Clint Lamb on Twitter @ClintRLamb.

Written by Clint Lamb

Clint Lamb is a College Football Writer for OutKick. Managing Editor for Roll Tide Wire. Sports radio host for The Bullpen on 730/103.9 The UMP. Co-host for The 'Bama Beat podcast through The Tuscaloosa News and TideSports.com.

10 Comments

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  1. I might get burned for this, but I also believe people are starting to get burned out on the travel ball system. Kids get bored of playing the same sport year-round, parents are getting tired of sacrificing their weekends, and many people are realizing the costs do not meet up with the rewards. For example, the school where I coach almost all the baseball players played for a local travel ball team that costs rough 10-20k a year with team fees, travel, uniforms, etc. Almost all of them signed a baseball scholarship, but to 2-year schools around the state. It’s farther than I ever got, but at the end of the day the investment did not meet up to the reward. Hopefully, parents and kids can get back to playing for local organizations and playing many different sports throughout the year.

  2. Growing up, we played sone kind of neighborhood sports game almost every day. Basketball, smear the queer or street two-hand touch football, all kinds of baseball or wiggle ball. Didn’t have video games. Sure we watched some tv, but a lot of that was watching sports. My parents never wondered or cared where I was – they knew we were safely out having fun. Different world today, unfortunately.

  3. Jperk1362 is right travel ball taking over all sports is what’s killing them. If a kid is not Ritch enough to be on a travel team then why bother. Unless your a National level talent where schools find you your chances of landing a school any school is slim. The coaches have no budgets outside of football to recruit so they automatically go to the travel teams for recruiting. Leaves the average player to wonder why even play if there’s no future in it. When my daughter started playing tennis I knew what I was getting into with an individual sport but the travel system has pushed the cost to the patents in team sports also. So as a struggling parent why would I encourage my kid to play a sport and I can’t afford and he can’t progress in. Except football but it’s even happening in football for the QB position with IMG and receivers also.

    • Jeff, this is a great point. I would add too: we moved to a new city when my daughter was 12, and she mentioned she might want to try soccer. We looked into it and were told “no chance” if she hadn’t already been playing since she was 5! Where is the allowance for late bloomers, or kids who just want to have fun and run around? The travel system has killed the good things youth sports should be about.

  4. It’s alarming for sure. I think it’s a combination of things however. I’m trying to stay clear of the generational cliches. Back in my day etc but It does appear that a certain segment of parents coddle their kids. And another segment , as some have mentioned have unrealistic expectations for their kids. In my area lacrosse is pretty much a rite of passage. My sons were 3rd generation players. The club/ travel circuit has literally turned into the aau basketball circuit. You have to be on the ” right” club. Go to the right tournaments for college exposure etc. Meanwhile these club teams and tournament sponsors are pulling in thousands upon thousands of dollars all on mom and dad’s dreams of a college scholarships. A sport that at the division 1 level when fully funded offers 12 scholarships. It’s really gotten completely out of hand. I really don’t know what the answers are but it definitely doesn’t bode well for our youth.

  5. I like sports but i think a lot of people are figuring out there is a lot more to this life than sports and that young people can develop quite nicely without it.

  6. The biggest issue I have with youth sports is far too many coaches fall to parental pressure, and some of the most talented kids get left out due to favoritism or “booster” parents.

    Both of my girls were rolling in volleyball and soccer, but I’ve transitioned one to MMA, and the other to golf. Choose your own destiny. There is no favoritism in individual sports. Results do the talking.

    Parents need to stop making excuses, and start making adjustments. Don’t let your kids turn into coronabros.

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