Recent Study Shows Big Drop in Core Youth Sports Participants | Athletic Business

Recent Study Shows Big Drop in Core Youth Sports Participants

Source: PHIT America

SILVER SPRING, MD – May 19, 2015 -- When it comes to team sports, the U.S. is becoming a nation of spectators and not participants.  Recent statistics released by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) indicate a drastic decline in team sports participation, in the last five years, by children ages 6 to 17.  Combined with recent news that a record 82.7 million Americans are physically inactive, this is a troubling trend which has far-reaching ramifications that is impacting rising spending on national health care, decreased life expectancy, inadequate levels of national defense, and the future of the sports and fitness industry.

Not only do the statistics indicate a drop in overall participation in youth sports, they reveal a Youth Participation 2014decline in the number of 'core' participants in ten major team sports -- baseball, basketball, cheerleading, court volleyball, fast-pitch softball, field hockey, ice hockey, outdoor soccer, tackle football, tennis, and track & field.  The only youth team sports to show any kind of gains in participation in the last five years at the 'core' level are lacrosse and gymnastics, two sports which have relatively low levels of overall participation.

The bottom line is that the number of children who used to spend lots of time every year being physically active playing sports is dropping.  With a growing U.S. population, the participation figures in team sports should be going in the other direction.  Instead, the exact opposite is happening.

There are a number of reasons why there are fewer children being active in team sports.  Four of the main reasons for the decline are:

- The decline and lack of quality physical education in schools

- A heavy emphasis on 'travel' ball at any early age, which means young athletes are too focused on playing just one sport and not multiple activities

- Youth addiction to using electronic devices and social media which encourages sedentary behavior

- ‘Pay-To-Play’ costs for school sports, league play, specialty clinics, etc. has made the cost to participate too high for many families

“Another overlooked element is the decline of ‘sandlot’ play -- in all sports – where children play in the backyard or an open field, pick the teams, establish the rules, and resolve any kind of rules infractions,” says Jim Baugh, Founder, PHIT America.  “Too many youth sports opportunities are driven by parents that are taking these fun, recreational activities too seriously, which detracts from the all-important fun factor that is a big part of the recreational sports experience. We have to let kids be kids and have fun!”

Reactions from leaders within the sports industry about physical inactivity are strong. 

“Travel ball has become a big competitor of the local (youth baseball and softball) league,” says Steven Tellefson, President/CEO of Babe Ruth Baseball & Softball.  “The game (baseball and softball) has become more expensive and results in a lack of appeal in the form of children and families choosing not to participate.  The cost with travel/elite teams is quite expensive.  In rural areas, this has decimated local, affordable community based programs.  Better players who can afford it are lost to travel teams.  The end result is community based programs struggle to get enough participants to have a viable league.”

“Society is changing and kids have more options, so as an industry, we need to continue to encourage innovation that is focused on the player and improving the player’s performance,” says Michael Schindler, CEO. Baden Sports.  “By doing that, we improve the overall experience and increase the enjoyment of participating in youth sports, while also encouraging a lifelong passion for physical fitness.”

"The role and impact that participation in sports and fitness have played in shaping our country and industry is indisputable,” says Bob Puccini, President, Mizuno Sports USA, and Chairman, Sports & Fitness Industry Association.  “We know that if kids are engaged in physical activity at a young age, they are up to three or four times more likely to be engaged and active as adults. We need "PE" in schools!  In addition to the obvious and quantitatively proven benefits from physical health and academic perspectives, it's the ‘values’ associated with sports that have also been a major contributor to the character and fabric of our extraordinary American society.  The fact that core participation in team sports is declining at such a rate is not only concerning from an industry vitality perspective, but most profoundly, it rings a major alarm related to what ‘substitute(s)’ are increasingly shaping our character as a nation, going forward." 

"Team sports participation declines in recent years are troubling," says Chris Considine, President, Considine Management Advisors, and a former President of Wilson Sporting Goods.  “While there is not one answer to this challenge, as an industry, we must create and support programs that promote sports participation and physical activity, such as PHIT America.”

PHIT America, working with the SFIA and some key sponsors, is attacking some of the issues by giving out grants to physical education and school-based programs.  PHIT America will continue to educate  parents about the importance of physical activity by producing a documentary on the 'Inactivity Pandemic,' its ramifications, and the solutions.  Later this year, there will be a special PHIT America app released which will help parents get their children more active while having fun playing sports. PHIT America is also active advocating for key pro-activity U.S. legislation, the PEP Program and the PHIT Act, that supports P.E. in schools and will help reduce the cost to be active for families and individuals.

“However, we need more help from companies and individuals,” said Baugh. “We can’t sit on the sidelines and watch these sports that teach life lessons deteriorate. Every league, governing body, company, and individual must invest their time and money to turn around the 'Inactivity Pandemic' by growing fun, sports activities.  PHIT America welcomes everyone to join our Alliance. Just go to to learn more.”

“We also can’t be fooled by thinking that increased visibility of sports on TV or of sports stars will be our savior. Sports fandom and viewership levels have never been stronger, but participation rates have declined. We need to get back to the basics of fun, youth sports activities that are healthy and teach life skills to children,” says PHIT America's Director of Communications Mike May.

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