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Study: Focus on Elite Athletes Hurts Sports Participation

Jason Scott

A Canadian study found that lower rates of sports participation may be caused by something other than video games, smartphones or the general laziness of today’s youth.

The study, performed by Vital Signs and the True Sport Foundation, found that youngsters are quitting sports because they believe they aren’t good enough to keep playing.

John O’Sullivan, founder of the Changing the Game Project, told CBC Sports that the obsession with identifying the best players at an early age is having a chilling effect on other players.

“The problem is we are trying to select out the ‘talent’ far, far too young, by starting highly tiered teams with cuts,” O’Sullivan told CBC Sports. “We’re saying these eight-year-olds are on the top team, so they get the best coaching and best facilities, and these other kids go down this house league track.”

The effect? Many young athletes hanging it up as early as age 13.

In addition to kids giving up an active lifestyle, O’Sullivan says it hurts athletic development overall.

“We cannot know at that age which kids will make it and which kids won’t,” he said. “What the science says is we are best off training as many kids as possible with the best coaches and best environment as long as we can, letting them grown and then seeing what happens. But to say we are only going to focus on these 10 or 12 kids is crazy.”

In addition to the focus on elite athletes, the study found that higher costs associated with sports are also a barrier to participation.

According to the data, kids from low-income households are nearly 25 percent less likely to participate in sports than those that come from families earning over $80,000.

Women and girls were also found to be less likely to compete then their male counterparts.

To counteract the trend of declining participation, O’Sullivan recommended that adults ease up on their expectations of being the best.

“We’re so scared that we aren’t going to keep up that we’re doing all this stuff that goes against everything we know about how to make sports better,” he said.

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