Fewer Kids Are Playing Sports These Days, But Why?
If you’re a sports parent, you might have noticed that kids today don’t seem to have the same interest in sports that they had when you were a kid. For example, when was the last time you drove past an open park, field, or court and witnessed a pick-up game? (I sometimes wonder if kids today even know what a “pickup game” means?). Unlike previous generations, creating spontaneous games doesn’t seem very important, as today you will find far many more kids tethered to their phones and gaming systems than you will see kids playing wiffleball games in the back yard. Interscholastic sports are experiencing a similar trend where fewer kids are playing school sports, leaving us with a very big question: Why are so many kids choosing to not play sports?
Why are kids choosing other things over sports?
As with most things in life, there isn’t one single reason why numbers are down with youth sport participation. Fundamentally speaking, kids today still like to play, run, be a part of a team, and enjoy success. Sports, for the most part, provide all of that. So the argument that kids today are somehow different (softer) doesn’t stand up. What has changed, however, are the things around kids that have diverted their attention away from sports, including the following:
- More things to do. Even if you just acknowledge the internet grabs the attention of most kids today then you have a pretty good idea where kids are directing a lot of their time. For better or for worse, more kids today are devoting chunks of their daily lives on the web, with some of this time actually being used for learning, research, and various school projects (yes parents, the internet isn’t always bad!). There are also new physical activities to do that differ from traditional sports, including X-game activities, disc football, and MMA.
- Adults have made sports less fun. When adults act out at games it can be incredibly humiliating for kids, so much so that it literally prompts some to quit. In addition to fan problems at games, some parents simply push too hard and expect too much from their kids, stealing what would otherwise be an enjoyable experience for kids. Youth sports burnout is a consequence of parents pushing too hard, yet another reason why some kids are walking away from sports.
- The costs of sports. The reality is that youth sports can be very expensive when you factor in league fees, equipment, travel, and medical expenses (to name a few). Some families simply can’t keep up with all the rising costs, and direct their kids to other activities as a result.
- Worries about concussions. Another newer concern has to do with potential long-term consequences of head injuries experienced while playing sports. Even though the research is still evolving in this area, some early media reports suggest that repeated hits to the head can potentially result in future cognitive problems, but these findings are still being debated.
- Time commitments/travel. As kids improve their sport skills, they often move on to more competitive teams and leagues. What this means to parents is a greater dedication of time toward sports, as well as more travel to get to games outside the area where the family lives. Delving deeper, this also means less time for things like school, friends, and other non-sport interests and activities.
Will the trend of seeing declining numbers of kids playing sports continue? That remains to be seen, of course, but we can safely assume the challenges mentioned in this column will continue to exist (if not increase). In the future adult leaders in youth sport leagues and interscholastic sports will need to continue finding ways to draw kids to sports, provide fun experiences while they play sports, and keep parents in check so that they don’t negatively impact the sport experience.