In the past decade, there has been a decline in children playing organized sports in America.
We can point our fingers at video games, the pandemic, the “sissification” of America and every aspect you can imagine. A survey by the Aspen Institute from 2011 to 2017 showed there was a decline from 41% participation to 37.5% in ages 6-12.
There are several factors.
According to a Nov. 6, 2019, article in The Atlantic, one of the biggest changes has concerned economics. The advent of travel teams has really affected the number of participants. In order to participate on a travel team, the child must have parents who can come up with several hundred — and in some cases, thousand — dollars.
According to the article, “Just 34 percent of children from families earning less than $25,000 played a team sport at least one day in 2017, versus 69 percent from homes earning more than $100,000. In 2011, those numbers were roughly 42 percent and 66 percent, respectively.”
I can see the idea of traveling teams if the children are in their later teens. It would give them a chance to face better competition in order to continue to play in junior college, college or even the professional ranks.
However, as a teacher, I've had students who have played on baseball and basketball traveling teams. Both were 10 years old. At 10, children aren't even close to being physically mature, and many don’t even know the fundamentals of a sport.
There are also other ramifications. One of those students has dreams of being an NBA star and, as a result, he's putting little effort into his school work. No matter what is discussed with him about how so few people make it to the NBA, he’s going to be the next Kobe, LeBron or Seth, instead of the next Greg Oden, Ndudi Ebi or Damon Bailey.
A May 31, 2019, segment on the Fox News website says that many children aren't finding sports fun. In many cases, they are being pushed into a sport by their parents. Many dream of their child living their past glories – or in some cases improving their past non-glories – or being the next NFL, NBA or MLB star.
I've seen some youth coaches who want to be the next Pat Riley, Billy Martin or Urban Meyer. Instead of having fun with the kids, they are there to win. It's an ego thing. I’ve seen parents pushing their kids into a sport they don’t like. I remember a kid who had a great fastball as a sophomore, but his dad made him throw 100 pitches a night, every night. By the time he was a senior, he hated the game.
Years ago, I'd see groups of kids getting together in the neighborhood to play baseball or football or to shoot hoops. As children, my brother and I would play every day, and, yes, it was like a scene from “The Sandlot.” We played for the love of the game.
Still, while organized team sports might be on the decline, there has been some improvement in outdoor recreation.
Another article said the pandemic also has had an effect on team sports, but it's affected children in a positive way. According to a Jan. 27, 2021, article on outsideonline.com, the pandemic has seen a resurgence in people taking part in outdoor sports such as bicycling, kayaking and camping. In fact, a survey by the Aspen Institute had biking as the third most popular sport.
In order to excel, the child must like the sport. Let them play.
Brian Love is a Cleveland freelance writer, former sports writer, current teacher and a Sandlot fan.