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Kids Aren't Playing Enough Sports. The Culprit? Cost

Aug 11, 2019 * Kelly CohenESPN If you want to define a "super kid," look no further than Marcy Barnett's 7-year-old son, Malachi.During the summer in Washington, D.C., he participates in just about every recreational sport: basketball, soccer, flag football, sailing, tennis, swimming and golf. He also has tried ice hockey, pingpong and pole vaulting. Anyone else tired after just reading that list?Barnett wants her son to have fun and burn off his ample energy. But there's more to it. She spends time researching what she calls "quality programs" -- activities that display tangible evidence that he is learning valuable life lessons such as respect, teamwork and even basic social skills.The problem is, she can't put him in just any program she finds and is interested in. Because of her financial situation, she picks only those that are free or subsidized or through the military, as Malachi's father is in the armed forces. And because she doesn't have a car, she relies on convenience, selecting programs that are easily accessible by public transportation from her house in Maryland.Still, the pros of youth sports outweigh the cons for the Barnett family.Editor's Picks * But a new survey of parents of youth athletes conducted by the Aspen Institute and Utah State University has ESPN.com wondering if the Barnett family is in the minority.The Aspen Institute, through its Project Play initiative, looked at research from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association that found that in 2018, only 38% of kids aged 6 to 12 played team sports on a regular basis -- down from 45% a decade earlier -- and it decided to find out why.The survey results point to all the struggles Barnett tries to avoid with her son: cost, inconvenience and kids simply not having fun anymore.The Aspen Institute found the average amount of spending on sport was approximately $692. That's per child, per sport and per year.AVERAGE ANNUAL SPENDING PER SPORT, PER CHILD SPORT AVG. COST Baseball$659.96Basketball$426.78Bicycling$1,011.61Cross country$420.86Field hockey$2,124.62Flag football$268.46Tackle football$484.57Golf$925.38Gymnastics$1,580.28Ice hockey$2,582.74Lacrosse$1,289.22Martial arts$776.51Skateboarding$380.02Skiing/Snowboarding$2,248.84Soccer$536.90Softball$612.83Swimming$786.03Tennis$1,170.09Track & field$191.34Volleyball$595.49Wrestling$476.45Other sports$1,233.30From the Aspen Institute survey: Parents estimate their family's spending on sports over the past 12 months.Further, the average household income of respondents to the Aspen Institute survey was $90,908 -- a number that is significantly higher than the U.S. average of $59,039. It is likely because of that discrepancy that the Aspen Institute found that children from low-income families are half as likely to play sports as children from homes with higher incomes.The Chicas family, like the Barnett family, faces hurdles of price and location. Gloria Chicas has two sons, aged 11 and 14, who she says are exceptional at soccer, but "there was always a barrier" when first looking for the right competitive travel team to join.The Aspen Institute found that travel is now the costliest element of youth sports and that on average across all sports, parents spent $196 per sport and per child annually to travel. Thanks to travel teams, youth sports is now an estimated $17 billion industry.Gloria's sons, Christopher and Axel, play in such competitive soccer leagues that registration fees can cost around $1,800 annually. This doesn't include the cost of uniforms, equipment, tournament fees and every cost associated with out-of-town travel, including hotel rooms and food. These costs are even higher if the families want to go with their kids to watch them play.Chicas also has to account for two boys on two different teams, who are sometimes are in two different cities for their respective games -- something that can be difficult for what she calls "a family from modest means."Addressing the issuesFor families like the Barnetts and the Chicas, there are programs in the D.C. metro area such as Volo City Kids Foundation for Malachi and Open Goal Project for Christopher and Axel.Volo City Kids Foundation -- the product of an adult social league -- was created when it was brought to CEO Giovanni Marcantoni's attention what barriers the Baltimore youth community was facing when seeking to have safe and healthy play during the 2015 protests. Volo City operates in cities all over the country, including in D.C., Baltimore, Denver and San Francisco.Volo City is free for families, operating on donations and volunteering, yet the foundation has continued to grow year after year. According to Floyd Jones, ...Read more

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