Mar 9, 2022 - Sports

Exclusive: School sports, reimagined

Youth sports participation rates
Data: SFIA; Note: Respondents could select multiple venues; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

American teenagers are most likely to participate in sports through their schools, but innovation among school-based programs has largely stagnated.

State of play: The Aspen Institute spent two years compiling its "Reimagining School Sports" report with the aim of improving that experience.

What they're saying: They boiled their research down to eight strategies that schools can use to improve the experience for the 40% of students who participate and capture some of the 60% who don't. A few examples:

  • Align sports with school mission: Winning isn't everything. If athletics aimed to achieve similar goals as the school itself, it would create more well-rounded student-athletes.
  • Understand your student population: Survey students, find out what they want and make an effort to provide it.
  • Create personal activity plans: Counselors help students map out their academic goals. Why not do something similar with athletics?
  • Bolster coaching education: Continually train and re-certify coaches to ensure they understand their importance beyond X's and O's.
  • Prioritize health and safety: 31% of public high schools lack access to an athletic trainer. This should be table stakes.

The backdrop: Youth sports participation has been declining for years. But COVID has created an opportunity: 30% of students said their interest in sports grew during the pandemic; just 16% said it decreased.

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