Youth sports is big business. It is so huge that we can only guess at how large it has grown.
I’ve seen annual estimates of more than $21 million all the way to $35 million for children ages 5 to 18.
That number may sound good, but let’s look at the facts behind the big number.
- Kids are starting earlier and earlier. Sixty-seven percent of boys and 47 percent of girls are already on teams by age 6 (ESPN).
- Kids are getting busier. Fifty-one percent of third- to fifth-grade boys who live in the suburbs play on three or more teams (ESPN).
- Kids are defining themselves by their sports. Sixty-one percent of all boys who play say that sports are a big part of who they are. Thirty-four percent of girls say the same thing.
- Kids are quitting because they don’t have fun.The biggest reason kids quit sports is because they are not having fun (36 percent girls, 39 percent boys) (ESPN).
- Kids in the city have fewer opportunities to play sports. Urban boys (39 percent) and girls (28 percent) have fewer roster positions available than rural boys and girls (50 percent, 63 percent) (ESPN).
- Kids are not going pro. The odds? For high school football players, it’s 1 in 6,000. Baseball is 1 in 4,000. Basketball is 1 in 10,000. (USA Today)
- Kids want to play sports with friends. Sixty-five percent of them participate in sports to be with friends. (USA Today)
- Kids aren’t as concerned about winning as adults. Seventy-one percent of children say they wouldn’t care if no score was kept in their games. (USA Today)
- Kids enjoy sports more without pressure. Thirty-seven percent wish no parents would watch them play. (USA Today)
- Kids are not always treated respectfully. Forty-five percent have been called names or insulted by coaches. (USA Today)
- Kids are getting coached by their dads. Eighty-five percent of coaches are dads who are coaching their own kids. (USA Today)
- Kids’ sports participation declines with age. Most stop playing at age 13, and most 8- to 12-year-olds say they would stop at 13. (Sports Illustrated)
- Kids are learning good things from sports. Sixty-seven percent learn to be a team player. Sixty-seven percent meet people they wouldn’t have otherwise meet. Forty-two percent develop discipline. (Sports Illustrated)
- Kids get injured when they play. More than 3.5 million children age 14 and younger receive medical treatment for sports injuries annually. According to the Center for Disease Control, more than half of all sports injuries are preventable. (Sports Marketing Surveys)
- Kids are not always getting trained coaches. Only 1 in 5 coaches of youth teams of children under age 14 say they have been trained in effective motivational technique, and just 1 in 3 in skills and tactics in the primary sports they coach. (Sports Marketing Surveys)
Why do these facts matter? For starters, they show how influential youth sports is and at the same time, how distorted they have become.
The statistics show that youth sports in its purest form is a wonderful learning and growing experience for kids. It’s us adults who tend to mess it up.
Janis B. Meredith, sports mom and coach's wife, writes a sports parenting blog called JBM Thinks. She authored the Sports Parenting Survival Guide Series and has a podcasting series for sports parents. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.
This is an updated version of a blog that originally published Jan. 4, 2016.