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The youth sports exodus

An illustration of a trophy with the typical trophy figurine walking away.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The average child today spends less than three years playing a sport and quits by age 11, according to a new survey of sports parents conducted by the Aspen Institute and Utah State University.

Why it matters: For parents who see the benefits of their kids playing sports and for a nation in the midst of a childhood obesity epidemic, keeping kids active is extremely important.

Where it stands: Only 38% of kids aged 6 to 12 played team sports on a regular basis in 2018, down from 45% in 2008, per the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.

Between the lines: According to the survey, three of the main reasons kids quit sports are (1) a lack of fun, (2) bad coaches and (3) financial pressure.

  • The youth sports economy has always been big business, but as competitive travel teams have crept into increasingly younger age groups over the past decade, the industry has doubled in size to more than $15 billion.
  • The result is a world of private coaching, interstate travel and mega-complexes (look at this place) full of families willing — and able — to spend as much as $20,000 per year on youth sports.
  • Meanwhile, low-income families are being priced out, resulting in their children losing not only an opportunity to excel at a sport but also the chance to exercise and make friends.
"They may be holding back on vacation or on a car, but they will make certain that Susie goes to the cheerleading competition in Orlando and Johnny gets to his Little League tournament in Georgia."
— Mary Helen Sprecher, sports journalist, to NYT

What they're saying: Lisa Delpy Neirotti, sports management professor at George Washington University, writes in the Washington Post: "Everyone thinks from the Olympic medal count, we have the best youth sports system in the world. But when you look at some of the sports, these are things parents pay for."

  • "If we're really looking at being a more inclusive and healthier society, we should probably get these kids playing together more out on the field — everybody, not just certain populations that can afford it."

My thought bubble: Youth sports in America is becoming a story of the haves and the have-nots. I don't know about you, but I absolutely hate it.

Go deeper, via HBO Real Sports: The price of youth sports

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that 28% of kids aged 6 to 12 played team sports on a regular basis in 2018. It has been updated to the correct number of 38%.