For millions of American kids ball practice is as much a part of growing up as bedtime and homework. An estimated 45 million kids participate in youth sports across this country every year, and often they start early: it’s not uncommon to see kids as young as four or five suited up on a Saturday morning soccer field or passing pucks at an indoor ice rink. National Youth Sports Week this July 20th-24th is designed to draw attention to the rewards of participation for kids of all ages.
The benefits can be far-reaching. Aside from the obvious physical advantages, participating in youth sports can build self-esteem and confidence, leadership skills, and self-discipline. It can also teach the value of sportsmanship, teamwork, time management, perseverance, cooperation and more. Plus, and perhaps most importantly for kids, it can be a whole lot of fun.
Unfortunately, studies show that up to 73 percent of kids quit organized sports by the age of 13 because it simply isn’t fun for them anymore. Generally, that’s about the same age that sports become more competitive, and more expensive – when kids (and parents) decide they really want to be part of the high school team or an elite club team.
The cost to keep competing can be staggering: high-tech gear and mandatory equipment, fees, travel costs and medical expenses, plus personal training sessions and specialty sports camps that can run upwards of $400 per day. According to the Industry Statistics Sampler for Sports and Recreation Instruction, sports and recreation instruction was a $2.4 billion industry in 2002. Since then, the industry has exploded with most revenue coming from camps and schools that offer athletic training.
This type of instruction is not generally aimed at the average 5-year-old distracted by dandelions during T-ball, but at the high school athlete shooting for a spot on the team or a door into college. And that college dream is a long shot: the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) awards about $1 billion in athletic scholarships each year, but according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, less than 1 percent of the kids participating in organized sports today will be good enough to earn any of that.
“A valuable alternative to specialized athletic training is often brain training,” says Dr. Ken Gibson, author of Unlock the Einstein Inside: Applying New Brain Science to Wake Up the Smart in your Child. “The right type of brain training can absolutely give a child a competitive edge in sports. An intense, personalized, one-on-one brain training program will improve focus, attention, memory, visual and auditory processing skills and even hand-eye coordination. Obviously that will help them become a better athlete, and it may take them to the next level, but unlike most sports training, brain training will continue to help them even if sports doesn’t get them into college.”
Most parents agree that simply playing organized youth sports gives kids an advantage. In a survey by the Physical Education for Life group and the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, 93 percent of parents said youth sports promoted personal growth and 84 percent said organized athletics nurtured good moral behavior. Chances are, if you survey kids, they’ll just tell you it can be a whole lot of fun.
So if you’ve been shying away from organized youth athletics, National Youth Sports Week may be a time to reconsider getting your child in the game.