Children lose interest in organized sports. Why it matters

It’s the December 6, 2021, edition of bulletin 8 to 3 on school, children and parenthood. Do you like what you read ? Sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every Monday.

For more than a century, team sports have been a mainstay of American childhood.

What started out as a way to keep boys busy in cities and get out of trouble has grown into a $ 19 billion industry, with much of that revenue being generated by elite travel teams.

Yet the number of children involved in team sports is declining. In 2018, 38% of children aged 6 to 12 regularly practiced organized sport, against 45% in 2008 – mainly due to increasing costs, time commitments and the hyper-competitive nature of many sports.

A report by the Aspen Institute shows that the pandemic may have accelerated this trend. The national survey conducted in September 2021 found that not only the pandemic has disrupted the supply of local sports programs – with 44% families stating that their community program had closed, merged or returned with limited capacity – but that many children right now have simply lost interest.

I know what you are thinking. Sure Participation in team sports is on the decline at a time when getting together in groups is still a risk, especially for unvaccinated children. And this reality has been confirmed in the data; half of parents surveyed said fear of contracting COVID-19 prevented them from re-enrolling their children in sport. But aside from safety concerns, nearly three in 10 parents said their child athletes did not want to return to the main sport they played before the pandemic.

I wanted to know what might lead to this pattern, so I spoke to people who have dedicated their lives to the study of youth sports, including Travis Dorsch, founding director of the Families in Sport Lab at Utah State. University and responsible for the Aspen Institute report.

One optimistic explanation is that the pandemic has created the time and space for children to try out new and different hobbies, including individual sports such as cycling and running, Dorsch said.

“The pessimistic point of view is that when kids tell us they’re not interested, they get away from the sport altogether,” Dorsch continued. “There’s probably a bit of both in there. “

Jennifer Agans, a professor at Penn State whose research focuses on the role of extracurricular recreation in youth development, noted that many parents had an unprecedented opportunity to slow down and reassess their priorities during the lockdown. Families involved with the travel crews in particular got a taste of life without the grueling hour after hour of driving to games, eating meals on the road, and the relentless pressure to win. The cultural norm of the affluent multisport athlete may have given way to the desire for a less busy schedule.

“It’s a broader issue with youth sports that the pandemic has brought to light,” Dorsch said. “I don’t know if we are doing a great job of restoring young people in sport. It has become a context very focused on adults and competition.

Aspen data shows that young children were more likely to lose interest in their primary sport. It made sense to Agans, who noted that organized sports are more appealing to a teenager who has spent years playing football, for example, and has built an identity around being an athlete.

“My hunch is that the kids who don’t go back to sports are the ones who weren’t as invested in the first place,” Agans said.

The Los Angeles Boys & Girls Club baseball league has registered 80 children in East LA this spring and summer, up from more than 300 before the pandemic, said director of operations Carlyn Oropez. The low turnout was mainly related to safety concerns, but many children are also much more interested in unstructured play at this time.

“I have met more and more kids who have never played sports, who have never been in a league,” said Charles Boyden, director of the baseball league.

From atrophied fundamental movement skills to athletics for children who adopted more sedentary habits during the pandemic. Not surprisingly, sports are less appealing to children who lack these skills, said Dan Gould, director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University.

They stayed at home on their computers, they played, ”Gould said. “It is difficult to get out of this pattern.

At the same time, community-based programs that provide a relaxed and affordable environment for young athletes have declined or disappeared during the pandemic (although experts predict that many of these programs will rebound as more children are vaccinated and that community organizations will rebuild their staff and budgets).

The Boys & Girls Club of Metro Los Angeles, which serves low-income youth in southern LA, has yet to resume its popular basketball leagues. Staffing and safety logistics – like the inability to mix cohorts of children and the difficulty of hiring people for after-school programs – are the main drivers, said Patrick Mahoney, president of the organization.

“We don’t plan on bringing them back anytime soon, not in this current school year,” Mahoney told me. “Hopefully we can start the league and the game by the summer.”

Private clubs and travel teams, meanwhile, were much quicker to recover, Aspen’s study shows. In some cases, these clubs have removed children from school and community athletics.

Club sports can cost anywhere from $ 1,000 to $ 10,000 per year, making them financially prohibitive for many families. School sports have made a big comeback and are more accessible, but they can also be very competitive and exclusive.

Clubs and some school teams “are focused on winning and trying to position their children for future scholarships and careers,” Agans said. “It’s important for families who want to pursue this goal, but it’s not everyone’s goal. We don’t want to have a pyramid-shaped image of who participates in sports, where everyone can play football at 5 years old, but at 15 years old only the best football players are still there.

In community leagues, the social, emotional and physical benefits of team sports are available to everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status or skill set. The city of Los Angeles recognized it by committing $ 160 million (donated by the LA28 Olympics and Paralympics and the International Olympic Committee) to the Parks Department Youth Track and Field Programs. The initiative, launched this month, aims to ensure that children between the ages of 5 and 17 can access low-cost or free sports programs at their local recreation centers.

For his part, Dorsch is hopeful that this upheaval in youth athletics will begin to push them in a more equitable direction.

“We have the opportunity to reinvent youth sport,” he said. “What will the design and delivery of the sport look like when we come out of it?” “

The disadvantages of sports in high school (and other topics)

We did not discuss the Mater Dei High School football hazing scandal in this space again, but it feels like it’s time. It goes beyond sport; it’s a teenager’s nightmare – and a parent’s. My colleague, Times columnist Gustavo Arellano, has written about the Santa Ana Sports Center for years and says there was nothing particularly surprising about the scandal. “Student abuse at Mater Dei has not consisted of a few rogue individuals over the decades; it’s institutional, ”he writes. And Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke has spoken to the parents of the student who was allegedly the victim of the hazing. He quotes the mother: “You drop your kids off at school and kiss them goodbye… and you feel like you put them somewhere where they can be safe. … Then for [Mater Dei] close your eyes and thus be unattended. … It’s like you’ve failed my child.

A San Diego County School District creates a separate academy for unvaccinated students so they can learn in person.

We have become terribly accustomed to school shootings. But one in Michigan last week, in which four students died, came with an element of surprise: this time the shooter’s parents were charged with a felony.

Here are 15 gifts for the Gen Zers on your vacation list. And here is where you can get your family’s Christmas tree in SoCal.

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What else do we read

[Note: Some of these articles may be behind paywalls.]

School shootings like this one in Michigan create “ripple trauma” for children who have not personally experienced the terror of a shooting but who are afraid of it. Washington post

We know how to stop school shootings, says an educational advisor. We just don’t do it. Hechinger Report

School officials in Marin County are trying to figure out what to do after parents let their two children go to school when they knew they had tested positive for COVID-19. Eight other students subsequently contracted the virus and 75 were quarantined. Chronicle of San Francisco

Governor Gavin Newsom has a reputation for skill. But Newsom told elementary school students in Sacramento last week that he suffered from dyslexia that traumatized him as a child. “People literally started laughing at me because I couldn’t read,” he said. “I will never forget her for the rest of my life.” Newsom this week published a children’s book about his experiences with dyslexia. Sacramento Bee

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