Today, 65% of children from low-income homes do not play sports. That’s the stat featured in an illuminating, two-page ad spread that ESPN the Magazine generously provided to Project Play, our Aspen Institute initiative to build healthier communities through sports. Further, many kids are being turned off by the pressure imposed by adults to perform before growing into their bodies, minds and true interests.
The PSA, called “Don’t Retire, Kid,” previews a multi-pronged parent engagement campaign that will launch Aug. 4. It’s inspired by Project Play 2020, a set of leading organizations that have come together to grow national sport participation rates and related metrics among youth.
Below is more information about the “Don’t Retire, Kid” campaign and its purpose. Tune in to ESPN’s 8 a.m. ET SportsCenter on Aug. 4 to watch the campaign launch. Then return to this website (ProjectPlay.us) for more resources to help parents keep their child in sports, or to even start playing sports in the first place.
What does #DontRetireKid mean and why now? The number of kids playing sports keeps decreasing. Only 38% of kids ages 6 to 12 played team sports on a regular basis in 2018, compared to 45% in 2008, according to data from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association as measured through an annual household survey. A total of 26 sports represent “team sports,” including traditional team sports (baseball, basketball, soccer, etc.) and some that are individual in nature (such as gymnastics, swimming, track and field, and wrestling).
“Don’t Retire, Kid” is the name of our campaign designed to drive public awareness of youth attrition in sports. It’s a crisis – a word we don’t choose lightly – because of long-term health implications. According to the National Survey of Children’s Health, only 24% of youth ages 6 to 17 engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day, down from 30% a decade earlier. Boys (28%) are more likely than girls (20%) to meet this daily physical activity recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Kids who are physically active are one-tenth as likely to be obese. They’re more likely to go on to college, and less likely to suffer chronic diseases. Retiring from sports at a young age can reduce the chances of these benefits.
What’s causing kids to retire or not even start?For some kids, the problem is one of access. Leagues or equipment cost too much, or quality fields and sports experiences are too far away. Only 22% of economically disadvantaged kids (homes or $25,000 or less in income) play team sports on a regular basis. That’s the half the rate of kids from high-income homes ($100,000 or more) and down for the sixth consecutive year (the rate was 34% in 2012).
For other kids, early retirement is the result of specializing in one sport too early, increasing the chance of overuse injuries or burnout by playing one sport year-round. Early retirement can also be due to a lack of qualified coaches, improper development, pressure to succeed and win, and lack of enjoyment. The No. 1 reason kids say they like playing sports is to have fun.
Why are soccer and girls featured in the ESPN ad?To be clear: The ad and the campaign are not just about soccer and girls. Soccer has taken the biggest hit among team sports, with the number of children playing the game on a regular basis down 18% over the past five years. But other sports have seen drops as well, with suburban kids retaining the greatest level of access.
What can parents do to help stop this trend?Parents alone cannot make sport a great experience for their kids, much less all kids. Many parents enter youth sports with the best of intentions, but they end up stressed and confused about how to create a positive experience for their child.
Parents need help from the organizations designing programs and the coaches working with kids. But parents can ask the right questions of themselves, their child, their coach and providers. Parents can prioritize quality access and activities that align with the needs of children.
The “Don’t Retire, Kid” campaign represents an opportunity to help engage those parents who believe a sustained sports experience should be offered to every child, regardless of zip code or ability. Give youth sports back to youth, and all stakeholders will benefit.
That’s our theory of change. We hope you return Aug. 4 to ProjectPlay.us to find additional free resources for parents and caregivers to keep their child in sports. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook at @AspenInstSports. Join us in this conversation and the pursuit of solutions.