According to the National Federation of State High School Association’s annual participation survey, sports participation is down for the first time in 30 years. Football, in particular, saw a low for a fifth consecutive year, something that may be attributed to safety concerns. But what about participation in other, non-contact sports, such as soccer, baseball, and tennis? Experts, ranging from directors of sports marketing to high school coaches to parents, lend insight into the decline.
Sports Are No Longer “Fun”
Studies cite numerous benefits of sports participation, many of which have to do with the development of life skills such as teamwork, personal accountability and sportsmanship. Ultimately, sports are about letting kids have fun — at least, they used to be.
Dr. Vassilis Dalakas, Ph.D., visiting professor of sports marketing at San Diego State University, tells Parentology one of the main reasons for declining sports participation is because sports are no longer enjoyable. “I realize many will blame the popularity of technology and video games as the reason why kids don’t find sports fun,” Dalakas says. “However, as a researcher of sports fan psychology, a coach of youth sports and a parent, I can attest that a big reason for [the decline] that many parents get extremely intense about youth sports in their desire to see their kids’ teams win.”
This phenomenon, which he refers to as “Basking in Reflected Glory,” has begun to infiltrate youth sports. Dalakas says the pressure on kids to win takes away any joy they might have in merely participating.
Video Games Partially To Blame
Despite Dalakas assertions video games aren’t to blame, Richard Williamson, head coach of boys’ lacrosse and administrator for Ballistic Sports Group, begs to differ.
“In the past year, I had three separate sets of parents tell me their sons didn’t want to play lacrosse because they were too involved with Fortnite,” he tells Parentology. “I’ve always had kids who played video games, but at least we had them coming out [to play sports]. This was the first time I’ve ever had parents letting their kids opt out of sports to play video games. Other coaches told me the same thing.”
Sports Are “Too Great of a Commitment”
A parent of two middle school boys, Sara E. Routhier suggests there are myriad reasons for the decline in sports participation.
“I think one of the big reasons parents aren’t enrolling their kids in sports is the pressure to commit a great deal of time and money,” she tells Parentology. “[In addition to the] the cost of registration fees, equipment, and travel, there are the expectations.”
Routhier is not alone in her belief. Many parents claim the difficulty of fitting in multiple practices between work, homework and other commitments is too much to handle.
Safety Is Always a Concern
Of course, safety is always going to be a concern, regardless of the sport a child chooses to play. Whereas most parents can overlook possible risks associated with non-contact sports, many can’t do the same when it comes to those associated with football. According to the results from an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll from last year, nearly 50% of parents — 53% of mothers and 39% of fathers — would discourage their child from playing football due to concussions and other safety hazards.
Regardless of the reason behind the decrease in kids taking part in youth sports, participation can be beneficial for many children and teens. Will rates start to increase in the future? Only time, and myriad changes, will tell.
Decline in Sports Participation — Sources
Dr. Vassilis Dalakas, Ph.D, Professor of Marketing at Cal State University San Marcos, Visiting Professor of Sports Marketing at San Diego State University
Richard Williamson, head coach of boys’ lacrosse and administrator with non-profit Ballistic Sports Group
Sara E. Routhier, mother