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Modern Solutions For Increasing Participation in Youth Sports

Our youth are choosing to be inactive, over dealing with the increased pressures of playing organized sports. Imagine having to make that choice. Sports are fun, healthy and social at their best; at their worst, they can be draining, expensive and stressful.

If you were to ask 100 adults why kids aren’t playing sports regularly anymore you’ll most likely get 100 different answers. A quick Google search will return analyses explaining that it is because of income inequality, ineffective coaching, pressuring parents, or the pointless pursuit to be the next Bo Jackson. These may all be true, but probably not in isolation. Most likely, we’ve turned away from the reason kids play sports and focused on the business of youth sports.

Bo Jackson, circa 1989

Businesses, generally, are rightfully obsessed with performance metrics, efficiencies, growth and market share. Kids, on the other hand, do not care so much about these things and are not willing to suffer through them at the rates we’d hope for.

But, as mentioned above, a child’s willingness to play isn’t the only factor. A major factor seems to be the cost of playing. The largest drop in participation rates was among families that earned less than $75,000 per year (50% participation in 2011 to 45% in 2017). While families that earned more than $75,000 per year have seen an increase in participation (64% participation in 2011to 67% in 2017). That is a major difference.

Source: Aspen Institute Project Play

Another, not surprising, area of youth sports affecting participation rates is quality coaching. Coaches are often unsung heroes of sports. They can make or break a team. According to State of Play, “only 5 per cent of kids who played for trained coaches quit the sport the next year; the attrition rate was 26 per cent otherwise.” Clearly, there is a difference, and yet the majority of coaches aren’t trained enough in core competencies. In 2018, only 34% of coaches were fully trained.

Source: Aspen Institute State of Play, 2018


Coaching is a massive responsibility. We have to make sure coaches understand that they are going to influence the minds of young people. The question is, how are they influencing them?

–SASHO CIROVSKI, Men’s soccer coach, University of Maryland

Something we tend to overlook as well is that kids don’t usually make executive life decisions. Their parents need to weigh-in. If our youth aren’t being active, the parents are also having to make that choice. Parents across the nation are having to make hard choices based on a vast amount of information – most of the times incomplete information. It seems worth noting that the issues being raised in professional sports (concussion management, mental health issues, soft tissue damage, fair-play, etc.) are trickling down to the kids. Take this and add financial responsibilities, time scarcity, and academic competition, and it is easy to see why parents are making the hard choice. We need to provide parents with better information/training, lower costs, and easier management tools if we want to reverse this trend.

Ok, enough doom and gloom. Problems can be overwhelming and exciting. Right now we are presented with a tough issue to solve, but we can do it. Look at everything else we’ve managed to solve through-out history.

First and foremost, anytime we are organizing anything around children we should ask ourselves: How will this add value for them and their families? Are we making this as easy and safe as we possibly can?

That data presented around coaching gives us a glimpse at the majorly impactful solutions we can already implement. But what about coordination with 10 – 12 other families? Couldn’t this be made easier? We, at EventConnect, have noticed, through our own data, that when a tournament is streamlined, from registration through to communication through to scheduling and scoring, participation and engagement from teams skyrockets. If we reduce the number of places a team and/or parent needs to check for information, we can save them time and energy they could use to help their kids have fun.

What if we could reduce the ancillary costs around sports (meals, travel, equipment, registration fees, membership fees, coaching fees). EventConnect has been able to reduce travel costs (hotel rates) by nearly 22% on average, and have been testing ways to reduce registration costs through packaging deals into bundles.

Organizations like National Sports ID are making major improvements in fair-play, making sure our youth are being given the right opportunities to play amongst their peers. Modern problems require modern solutions like technology and software.

Every child deserves to play sports, but the costs cannot outweigh the benefits. If we recognize this as a core value, we can and will find ways to ensure it is maintained and encouraged.

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