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How Accessible are U.S. Youth Sports - by Sarah Daren

From the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
"Helping coaches coach better..."

Sarah Daren is a featured writer on the Today Show website and has been a consultant for organizations across a number of industries including athletics, health and wellness, technology and education. When she's not caring for her children or watching the New York Yankees play, Sarah enjoys practicing yoga and reading a good book on the beach.

Sarah Daren
Sarah Daren

Sports are supposed to be all about skill. Either you can play well, or you can't, right? Well, yes and no. Skill remains a critical component of youth athletics, but for many families, finances play an equally important role.

Sports can be more expensive than many people realize, making it very difficult for low-income families to participate. In this article, we take a look at the opportunity gap in youth athletics.

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Robbie is really good at baseball. Scholarship potential? Maybe. One day. He's twelve right now, the star of his select team. That means practice, nearly all year round. It means games on the weekend and travel.

Hotels, eating out. Uniforms, equipment. League fees. More frequent doctor visits… the list goes on and on. All totaled, Robbie's family spends about $6000 a year on baseball, and they're fine with that. Mom has a good job. No one is nervous that their credit card won't go through at the grocery store in this house. Plus, there's that scholarship a few years down the line. Baseball is an investment, right?

But it's an investment Dan's family can't make. He's just as good as Robbie, sure. Better arm, actually, if you want to know, but it doesn't matter. Dan's parents live paycheck to paycheck. The furnace in their house is old. If it goes out this year - well, they haven't figured that out yet. Spending $6000 a year on baseball is out of the question.

It's called an opportunity gap, and for some kids, it can mean the difference between success and failure in sports.

Broader Implications

Not all kids can play elite sports. These leagues were selective, to begin with, right? So the costs associated with them only impact a very small fraction of the athletic population.

This is true, but it's worth pointing out two things. One, sports are supposed to be a merit-based activity. Success or failure hinges on your skills as a player. The high cost of elite sports undercuts that dynamic.

The other thing? Even normal athletic leagues come with costs that can be prohibitive for low-income families.

Most sports have league fees. School sports might not but they will still have other costs; equipment, uniforms, and physicals. Things that some families will need to dig really deep just to swing.

Then there are time costs. Practices after school. Games on the weekend. These time slots suit the average 9-5er's schedule just fine, but for shift workers or people who simply work overnight, it can be next to impossible to get their kids to games and practices.

Why it Matters

So why does this matter? Sports are nice, but they are extra-curricular. Totally optional, right? And that's true but there are many benefits that can have a substantial influence on your kid's life. For example, sports are directly associated with lower instances of childhood obesity.

They also have a distinct social values. The collaborative nature of athletics teaches kids how to work together. Set goals and accomplish them. Handle disappointment, and feel triumph.

These are enormously important life skills and in disadvantaged communities, they can help kids avoid the school-to-prison pipeline that ruins so many lives.

Unfortunately, there isn't an obvious solution to the problem of the opportunity gap in children's athletics. Communities will need to find local solutions that work for them. Flexible scheduling options. Grants for economically disadvantaged children. Second-hand athletic stores.

The more resources that become available, the easier it will be for everyone to participate in school sports.

Articles by Sarah Daren