Youth sports participation, especially in the most popular American sports, has dropped for kids ages 6 to 17 in recent years. The number of kids who play tackle football, basketball, baseball, soccer, volleyball and wrestling have all dropped over the last five years.

According to youth sports participation data from the 2015 Sports and Fitness Industry Association’s Trends in Team Sports Report, fewer kids played these sports in 2014 compared to 2009. Football saw a 17.9% drop over that five-year period. Basketball and baseball participation dropped 6.8% and 4.3%, respectively. 8.4% fewer kids played soccer in 2014 than 2009. Track and field had a 10.4% decrease. Volleyball dropped 21.6%, and wrestling witnessed a 41.9% decrease.

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Why has there been a decrease in youth sports participation?

It is worth pointing out that some sports appear to be thriving. Rugby participation has increased 100.7% (over double) between 2009 and 2014. Lacrosse has grown 28.8%. Ice hockey has increased 43.7% over those five years.

What factors could be responsible for decreased youth sports participation?

I think the business of youth sports has led to many of these drops. Kids are pressured now to pick one sport as early as seven and eight years old. They play on club teams that travel across the country before the players go through puberty. They play year round and often for more than one team at a time. And parents and coaches push kids to succeed at a young age in hopes that one day the child will receive a college scholarship.

All of this pressure to specialize and make elite teams can lead to kids burning out and quitting sports altogether. According to a recent article in Sports Business Journal, an internal study within youth hockey found that 43% of kids who started playing hockey quit by the time they turned nine years old.

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Hockey made changes to its youth programs. Under USA Hockey’s American Development Model, it eliminated 12-and-under national championship, travel for young players, banned body checking and encouraged players to also play sports other than hockey.

These changes could account for some of hockey’s growth.

Traditionally the top sports organizations focus on the national teams and professional athletes, leaving coaches, teams and leagues at the youth level to operate as they see fit. The sports seem to be recognizing a problem, as the governing bodies are becoming much more active in educating young athletes and their parents.

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Station wagon syndrome
A lesson young athletes can learn from the U.S. Women’s National Team

Youth hand huddle

Are the kids alright? By Bill King. Sports Business Journal. August 10, 2015.