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How To Increase Youth Sports Participation

Participating in youth sports is a great way to keep children healthy and socially engaged. Sports are one way to help kids be physically active most days of the week. And if the fields filled with players across neighborhoods are any indication, many children still respond to the call of various youth leagues and teams. Still, overall participation in youth sports is down from where it was a decade ago. The Aspen Institute, through its Project Play initiative, reviewed research from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association and found that, in 2018, the most recent year for data, only 38 percent of kids between the ages of six and 12 played sports that year, which was down from 45 percent in 2008. There are some eye-opening reasons behind why some children may be less inclined to join in, and those reasons also offer insight into how this issue can be overcome.

• Cost: The Aspen In stitute found the average cost per year for sports participation per child and per sport was around $695.

Ice hockey and field hockey were two of the most costly sports to play.

ESPN reports that low-income families are half as likely to play sports as children from homes with higher incomes, simply because of cost. Children who want to participate can look for recreational leagues or school-subsidized programs that may require little to no cost for participation. Equipment donation and swaps are some additional ways that participants can keep their spending down.

• Fun factor: Certain kids are opting out of sports not because of bad behavior by the players, but by the poor behavior of parents on the sidelines.

Heckling, putting undue pressure on children and getting into arguments with coaches and officials has unfortunately become a new norm at youth sporting events. The young players are the ones losing out when they feel anxious about playing. Rather, being a good sport parent is very easy. Only saying positive things on the sidelines or remaining silent is key.

Parents should resist the urge to coach (unless they are the coaches), and let those in charge do their jobs. Parents can stop critiquing their children’s play and avoid pointing out who on the team did better or worse.

• Distractions: Before the advent of the internet and social media, sports teams were the single best way to come together with friends to hang out and have a good time. Now kids don’t even have to leave their homes to engage with others. The COVID- 19 pandemic compounded issues of children being relegated to home rather than socializing and getting exercise. Parents can turn the tides by being more stringent as they govern device usage and strictly monitor and reduce screen time. This may help children be more inclined to once again join sports teams or other clubs and activities.

• Safety: No player wants to get sidelined by an injury that requires them to sit out a game or the entire season. Making safety a priority in youth sports can guard against unnecessary injuries. Johns Hopkins Medicine says about 30 million children and teens participate in youth sports in the United States, and around 3.5 million injuries occur annually. Contact sports and those that involve hitting or throwing balls typically have higher injury rates.

Wearing the correct gear, taking breaks in hot weather, adhering to age limits and the rules of the game, and other safety steps can help cut down on youth sports injuries.

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