5 Reasons Youth Participation Is Down in Sports

youth sports

Coaches, parents and sports planners can testify to the drop in youth playing athletics. It’s the mission of Tom Cove, president and CEO of the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, to reverse the trend. Not only is it bad for children’s health, it’s bad for the country, he says. That’s why SFIA is lobbying Congress to pass the PHIT Act (Personal Health Investment Today), which would give parents a financial incentive through a tax-free exception to encourage children to be active. Cove addresses the reasons behind the drop.  


Three-sport athletes are now playing one sport year-round. A baseball player who used to play football is busy on the diamond in the fall rather than on the gridiron.

It’s Too Much

Youths who start playing on the travel circuit at age 13 are often burned out by 16. It manifests in relationships with parents degrading over long drives to practice or homework not getting done. Even if the love of the game remains, playing too much can lead to early ACL or Tommy John injuries.

Marginalization of Rec Leagues

Somehow in this country, we decided if you are not a superstar or not on a travel team, there is no place for you. Recreation leagues—a home for kids who may not be great at sports but love to play—are the casualties of the phenomenon. With no place to play, ordinary athletes are giving up before they’ve found their niche.


Pay-to-play sports (both school and team travel) are pricing out lower-income families. It doesn’t make sense; sports should be accessible for everyone. Adding to the problem is the fact that schools, particularly middle schools, are struggling to pay coaches and fund transportation.

Lack of Physical Education

Kids used to be exposed at an early age to different sports for three-week stretches at a time in physical education classes. With fewer PE offerings, there is less of an opportunity to build confidence or expand a skill set. As a result, young children are at a disadvantage when they are ready for team sports.

By(e) the Numbers

9% Drop in youth participation in sports

18% Decline seen in youth tackle football

42% Decrease in youth wrestling

11.6% Drop among contact sports, versus an 8.1 percent decline in nonactive sports