Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Why the Decline in Youth Participation?

Photo Credit: Norfolk YMCA
by Chelsea Floyd

“Mom do I have to go to basketball practice today?” as I’m sitting in the backseat changing out of my cheer uniform.Yes Chelsea, and don’t forget to be ready to go to your brother’s basketball game when I pick you up. No lolligagging around after practice, we have to go.” This was the daily car conversation between my mother, me, and older brother growing up. We were both involved in at least three different sports and were on the go six days out of the week. Youth sports and activities were always something I looked forward to after school and helped influence the person I am today.

According to Sports & Fitness Industry Association, Inactivity among children approached 20% in 2014, continuing a six-year upward trend. This statistic is hard for me to believe. With the Little League World Series and high school sports getting more air time on ESPN than ever, what could be the cause of the downfall in participation? I have formed my own opinions on some causes this downfall.

Participation Awards

What has happened to the competitive aspect of youth sports? I attended a soccer game of my 5 year- old nephew. At the end of the game, he walked up with an award and I asked what was it for? He explained that it was for just showing up to the game and giving his best. They didn’t even announce the winner of the game, because score didn’t matter. I found this a little ridiculous. How is a kid gonna gain the drive to compete in a sport if there is no winner?

Sports are played to compete with one another to have a winner and a loser. If we are watching an NFL game for four quarters and at the end of the game we get a thanks for watching goodbye, don’t you think that was a waste of time? Competitiveness gives you the drive to do your best. Kids want to be rewarded for doing well and winning. When kids are winning it keeps them motivated to continue playing and learning the game. When kids are losing, there is motivation to get better so next time they can have the feeling of winning and holding up the trophy. From a marketing point, when kids are motivated to a sport they want to attend games to learn from the professionals. Since kids are not being rewarded, they are beginning to lose excitement towards playing and leaning to other activities that are becoming more competitive.


I always say, "I wish that I had an iPhone, iPad, or the most popular video games when I was growing up. But do I really wish that?! It’s becoming crazy to me that my niece and nephew, who are 5 and 9, both had cell phones and iPads before they were even in kindergarten. Last summer, while staying with me their concern was not going outside to run around, but what show is coming on next.

Kids now have adapted to doing what they see their parents doing. As adults, we are now so consumed on social media or work that our kids are the ones suffering. iPads are known by parents for being the object that keeps kids quiet, so they can get work done. What happened to going outside and playing in the field with neighbors after school? Kids are now coming home and hopping on the latest video game to compete with one another. If we can’t get kids outside playing sports , what makes us think we can get them in stands to watch games instead of catching highlights or watching the game on TV. When kids are participating in youth sports, they get to feel the excitement of being on a field or court competing for a win. So when they get the opportunity to attend a sporting event, they are able to put themselves in the athletes shoes because they see them doing the same thing that they do when they are competing. It makes for an unbelievable experience that will keep them coming back for more.

How Do We Fix This?

We have to put the excitement back into youth sports. There are plenty youth organizations where kids can compete. The YMCA and Boys and Girls Club of America both have youth sports teams where kids can come and play. Not only do we need to get them playing again, we have to bring back the competitive nature. You have to crown a winner and loser to provide motivation to be better. We want kids to inspire to be like or even better than the professional athletes they see on TV. What steps are you gonna take to make this happen?

Chelsea Floyd is a senior marketing major at Middle Tennessee State University.