Many Washingtonians have returned from the shorelines of summer vacations to the sidelines of playing fields, cheering on the area’s young athletes in a variety of fall sports. A recent Washington Post article, however, reported that the number of children playing team sports has fallen in the past five years. According to a survey conducted by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, the number of children ages 6 to 17 playing team sports has dropped by almost four percent from 2009 to 2014. Several factors were noted as possible contributors to this decline (e.g., the 2008 recession).
One concerning variable at play is the pervasive drive to succeed. There appears to be a shift in what parents (and coaches) view as the benefits of youth sports participation. In the past, youth sports were primarily seen as having an invaluable impact on a child’s emotional, physical, and social development. Children who participate who sports have lower rates of obesity, social isolation, and mental health difficulties. Over the past two decades, that view has been overshadowed by the need to succeed and the lure of potential college sports scholarships.
Consequently, children are burning out from the focus being on skills development and winning, rather than effort, cooperation, and dare I say…fun? As current U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan noted in January 2013, “Sports can provide invaluable lessons in discipline, selflessness, passion and courage; life lessons can be learned on the playing field.” So what is a parent to do? The answer is simple: listen to your child. As long as a sport is fun and rewarding, children will remain engaged. If it’s not, they will be the first to let you know.