Over 7.8 million children participated in high school sports throughout the 2014-2015 academic year. While this might seem impressive, many sports are actually facing a slow decline. Even popular sports have not been spared from this emerging phenomenon. For instance, football is down 2.4% and basketball has fallen by 1.9% compared to the numbers in 2008. In baseball’s Little League, the drop rate has been 2% per year since 2002. What’s most concerning with the decline in participation is the fact that youth and interscholastic sports are vital for our youth, and not only for their physical health. What does the future hold?
To learn more, checkout the infographic below, created by Ohio University’s Online Master’s in Athletic Administration program.
Reasons for the Decrease
Concerned parties have been trying to find the reasons behind this disturbing decline. Among the contributing factors identified are inactivity, screen time, obesity, and aggressive coaching. Around 20% of children between 6 years old and 12 years old are largely sedentary. This appears to persist until they reach their teens.
Children spend a great deal of their time in front of screens rather than playing outside. Their screen time was measured at 27 hours and 29 minutes per week on average. It was slightly less for teens at 24 hours and 29 minutes per week. Thus, it may come as no surprise that obesity is taking hold much earlier these days with 17.9% of children and 19.4% of teens having the condition.
Those who are able to play sports are subjected to challenges as well. About 73% of those surveyed in a study said they have experienced being yelled at by a coach. After the incident, 40% of them thought about quitting.
Importance of Team Sports
As we can see, an inactive lifestyle has some undesirable effects on children that can get worse as they grow older. Joining sports activities can prevent these from happening. They can get multiple health and social benefits just by participating in the various programs available.
For example, 88% experience an improvement in physical health and 73% say that it enhanced their mental health. Playing sports is also known to instill personal discipline and teach children to get along with others in order to achieve a common goal.
Additionally, participation in youth and interscholastic sports is associated with a decreased likelihood of cigarette smoking. It reduces risk of heart disease and diabetes. Active children improved their weight control and had fewer incidents of psychological dysfunction. They also had higher test scores and better overall academic achievement than average. They are more likely to get a bachelor’s degree and receive a good income.
Parents agree with these studies. They know that the benefits of sport extend into adulthood and so they encourage their children to keep playing. The majority of those surveyed said that it gives their kids skills that help in future schooling and eventual career.
Concerned individuals and organizations are trying to reverse the trend and boost participation for the good of the youth. Several strategies have been identified to promote change. Offering of a wider range of sports, putting the emphasis on fun rather than winning, reducing the chance of injury, and encouraging participation among young women are some of the most effective ways.
By expanding the range of sports being offered, there is a better likelihood that one or more of them will catch the interest of a child. Not everyone wants to play football with all of the contact it entails. Not everyone has the finesse to shoot a basketball. Yet these do not mean that a person can’t play at all. Perhaps running track or cross country would be better suited to some. Others might prefer non-impact activities such as swimming or cycling. The rest might be more interested to join camping activities.
The messaging may need to change as well. While it is a good thing to push boundaries and strive for excellence, putting too much emphasis on winning can take its toll on the players. It is also out of touch with the main reason kids like to play. Nine out of ten say that their aim is really to have fun. When pressed what makes sports fun, they mentioned several things like trying your best, being treated with respect by the coach, getting playing time, playing well together, and getting along with teammates.
Nearly all parents are concerned about the possibility that their children might suffer an injury. Indeed, 2.6 million people under 19 are treated for sports and recreated related injuries annually. If the risk can be reduced, then more parents are going to encourage their kids to play. The good news is that girls’ participation in high school sports has risen 18% since the year 2000 and things can get so much better by improving support for their programs.