Reinventing Youth Sport

By Ben L.

In the midst of the sports and leisure community lies an increasing and prevalent problem that has impacted the foundation of the future of sports. Participation and motivation has decreased exponentially. Between the increasing cost, early specialization, and unqualified/unmotivated coaching, there are alarming numbers being raised by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, Aspen Institute, and from the Department of Sports and Leisure at the University of Illinois.

In a participation study conducted within the US it shows that in 2008 almost 45% of children ages 6-12 played a team sport on a regular basis. Since then, those numbers have dropped to 37%. Tom Ferry explains, “Experts blame that trend on what they call an ‘up or out’ mentality in youth sports. Travel leagues, ones that can sometimes cost thousands of dollars to join, have crept into increasingly younger age groups, and they take the most talented young athletes for their teams. The children left behind either grow unsatisfied on regular recreational teams or get the message that the sport isn’t for them.”










Leadership is about influence, not authority. Leadership is about the impact, direction, and inspiration. Youth, at a base, are the mirror images of the world around them. Personally speaking, there is a strong belief in the guidance of nature vs. nurture. Take these words in spades as these root words dictate the belief that follows; you only get what you put into it.

Time and time again we are given the theatrics of sport through films, media, art, and even music. This constant theme represents one thing – sport is just entertainment to our adult population. The population’s average age in levels older than bantam are slowly increasing. Adults were nurtured in a society that places sport and leisure as closely related, whereas today’s youth culture has developed a stigmatized view on them respectively.

Efforts to improve youth sports involve the respect and maintenance of educated parents, coaches, and administrators, with the hope that education may change the outcome. Changes must be made to the structure and foundation before work towards our goal can be done. Humans, by nature, reject change as a means of comfort. I truly believe for us to achieve change, we must develop how sports and leisure are structured, and that may eliminate what we perceive as the underlying problem.


Chalip., L. et al. (2017).  Sport in Society: Cultures, Commerce, Media, Politics 2017 Vol.20        No.1 pp.30-46 ref.46. Web. https://www-cabdirect

Bogage, J. (2017). Youth sports study: Declining participation, rising costs and
unqualified coaches. The Washington Post.





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2 Responses to Reinventing Youth Sport

  1. Ryan L. says:

    Awesome post, Ben! I strongly agree that youth behaviour is a direct reflection of the job that parents and other youth leaders have done to facilitate positive development. I have witnessed, on several occasions, youth being pushed by their coaches to the point where they have completely lost interest in continuing with the sport. Had these coaches been taught how to facilitate performance while ensuring that youth have positive experiences, then these youth may have continued to improve and enjoy themselves in the sport. I particularly like Tom Ferry’s quote that mentions how competitiveness is increasing among younger age groups; this could be detrimental to youth’s development, as they rarely get to experience their sports in an unstructured setting. As we have stressed throughout this course, unstructured play is one of the most effective tools in fostering positive youth development. If youth are never able to be in charge of their own experiences and interact with their peers without the presence of adults, then they are less likely to develop creativity and leadership skills. As you mentioned, “leadership is about influence, not authority”; rather than simply looking after youth and guiding their experiences for them, sport and recreation leaders should look to provide a balance of structured and unstructured activities in order to promote a positive environment for youth development.

    Ryan L.

  2. haleyjulia says:

    Hi Ben! I think you are making some interesting points throughout your blog post, relating the theatrics of sport, how it serves as entertainment for the adult population, and it’s correlation to the decline in youth participation. In fact, I wonder if the drama that has been brought to sport has decreased youth’s interest in engaging in sport? Specifically, if an adult is having overtly loud, large, and negative reactions to a specific play, whether it is being viewed locally or on a television, if youth worry about these reactions directed towards them? Unfortunately, I found it difficult to find any articles relating to the theatricality of sports and youth’s decline in participation. However, in my experience, youth tend to enjoy themselves less when they are concerned with adults reactions towards their effort to engage in a particular activity. It would likely be beneficial to youth development if adults and parents were more mindful of their dramatic reactions and encouragement of the theatricality of sport.

    I thought you also made some interesting points relating sport to leadership. Recently, in my sport psychology class we discussed the long term affect of participating in certain sport and recreation programs. Specifically, we discussed the program “Going for the Goal.” This is a ten week program whereby high school students teach junior high school students a new sport and incorporating life skills. The program incorporates a new theme every week ranging from identifying strengths and weaknesses, to daring to dream, to road blocks, to going for the goal. It is very widely used and has been tested. Results have shown that students who engaged in the program had a better understanding of what is goal setting, they did not have any increase in health compromising behaviors, such as consuming drugs or alcohol, and they reported the program was fun, important and that they would recommend it. This is indicative that youth do not only enjoy the program, but that they believe it is important and learn leadership skills they can use in the future. I believe this is extremely important, as this knowledge will carry well into the future until eventually they may be the individuals fostering positive youth development within a sport context.

    Scott, D. (2017). Class Lecture.

    Haley MacIsaac

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