Aug 28, 2016; Williamsport, PA, USA; Mid-Atlantic Region players celebrate after beating the Asia-Pacific Region 2-1 during the championship game of the 2016 Little League World Series at Howard J. Lamade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports / Reuters
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On Aug. 4, ESPN officially launched its “Don’t Retire Kid” campaign in collaboration with the Aspen Institute’s Project Play. The project aims to target the nationwide decline in participation in youth sports in the United States. According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), only 38 percent of children aged six to twelve played team sports on a regular basis in 2018, down from 45 percent in 2008. By bringing awareness to the concerning trend, ESPN and the Aspen Institute hope to bring those numbers back up.
Exactly what has caused this significant drop in youth participation in sports? The answer to this question can be found in a national survey conducted by the Aspen Institute. According to this study, most parents could not keep up with the rising costs of youth sports, and as a result, encouraged their children to stop playing them. The costs of lessons, equipment, and travel expenses quickly add up, resulting in fees of up to thousands of dollars. For example, it was found in the same survey that parents spend an excess of $9,000 per year for sports such as swimming, baseball, ice hockey, tennis, or gymnastics. As a result, a large discrepancy between the rich and the poor has emerged, as new research conducted by the SFIA has shown that lower-income families are half as likely to enroll their children in sports teams than their upper-income counterparts.
Another factor behind the decline in youth participation in sports is simply a lack of interest. According to the Aspen Institute survey, the average child spends no more than three years playing a sport and most quit by age 11. Many children quickly lose interest in their sports and end up focusing on other aspects of their life such as academics.
With the help of star athletes such as Kobe Bryant, Wayne Gretsky, and Sue Bird, ESPN has aired a series of PSAs to raise awareness on the issue. The content created by the sports reporting giant outlines multiple reasons targeted toward parents to keep children enrolled in sports and encourages younger viewers to keep playing their sports. In addition, the campaign, backed by Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation aims to provide grants to youth sports teams to alleviate the financial burdens on the backs of many lower-income families. Through these measures, it is hopeful that youth participation in sports will soon change course and increase in future years.