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The youth sports industry is a multi-billion-dollar business. This isn’t something that parents usually think about when they first introduce their toddlers to a tennis racquet or a soccer ball.

Young families initially dip their toes into peewee teams as a way to fill some time during the day, introduce physical activity and for socialization.

boy in purple long sleeves shirt and purple pants holding brown football

In early childhood, sports are for fun and kids are encouraged to try out different activities and hobbies until they find something they enjoy and want to get better at. At some point in time, this mentality seems to have shifted, and kids are no longer freely exploring different sports. There are many reasons for this, including pressure for kids to become good at a single sport early on and the fact that participating in different programs is expensive and many families don’t have the disposable income to pay for it.  

We know that joining organized sports brings incredible physical and mental benefits to young athletes – they gain lifelong skills that they will use well into adulthood. But did you also know that exploring different sports can lead to better performance and contribute to future athletic success in college and beyond? A study published by the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine shows that early sport specialization can do more harm than good. Children who zero in on a single sport at an early age – under the age of 12 – are at a higher risk for overuse injuries, social isolation, burnout and can experience a decline in overall athletic development. 

A study of NCAA Division 1 athletes shows that 88 percent of athletes participated in 2-3 sports on average, and 70 percent didn’t specialize in a single sport until after age 12. There are some great benefits of exposing kids to different sports, including:

  • Providing an opportunity for kids to discover what they enjoy about different sports.
  • Allows kids to have fun and enjoy sport as a game, rather than focusing on winning or being the best.
  • Reduces the risk of overuse injury and overtraining.
  • Gives kids the chance to develop athletic skills that can transfer from one sport to another.
  • Provides learning opportunities that teach kids to adapt to different teammates, training styles and coaches.

The data shows that increasing numbers of young children are specializing in a single sport at an early age and training intensely year-round. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine both advise that “specialization in a single sport before adolescence should be discouraged.” 

football player carrying brown football

From a health perspective, young athletes don’t have the same control over their muscles like adults do. Their developing bodies aren’t as strong or capable of withstanding repetitive motion, which means they are at higher risk of injury, which can have long-term consequences. Switching between sports allows time for recovery and kids have the opportunity to use different muscles and body parts in order to reduce the risk of overuse injuries. 

From a mental health perspective, we also don’t want to put undue stress and pressure on young athletes. Yes, there are some extremely talented kids, and they may grow up to be the next Serena Williams or Tiger Woods, but the reality is that less than one percent of young athletes will play at an elite level. It’s more important to remember to have fun while playing and enjoy the friendships and memories made on the field. 

So, why is this happening? Why are kids committing to a single sport so early instead of exploring different opportunities and playing sports for fun? Long story short – because of the opportunity of a potential athletic scholarship in college. There’s a belief that if a child is talented and trains really hard from an early age, by the time they get to college they’ll earn financial aid. The cost of higher education is high, which is a different conversation for another day, but we understand why logically it may seem like a good idea for a young, talented athlete to commit to one sport. 

The youth sports industry is changing, and not only because COVID-19 impacted programs globally. Here are some reasons why kids don’t seem to be enjoying sports as much as previous generations did, and why ultimately, they are dropping out entirely. 

  • It’s just not fun anymore. As kids inch closer to high school, the expectations of athletes are higher and schools typically cater to the needs of more competitive players. 
  • Society doesn’t support kids playing just to play – there’s so much pressure to raise successful kids, and we (unintentionally) communicate to them to cut their losses in areas where they don’t excel. This sends a terrible underlying message to kids that if they’re not the best at something then they’ll fail. 
  • It’s expensive. Club teams, travel for tournaments, equipment – all of these costs add up very quickly. The average American family spends nearly $700 per child, per sport, per year.  

Sports can bring out the best and the worst in both athletes and parents. It’s important to remember that the values we learn on the field are arguably the most valuable component of an athletic career, these include integrity, commitment, determination, confidence, resilience and teamwork. The decisions parents make have a great impact on their children’s health and athletic development. It’s important to encourage them to play multiple sports so they can not only become better athletes and individuals, but also have fun doing it, because ultimately that’s the point. 

The Hiveclass platform brings access to quality, engaging youth sports training to all families, regardless of socioeconomic status. It gives young athletes the freedom and flexibility to explore different sports and train in their space, at their own pace. We invite you to download the app today and explore the incredible content we’ve shared! 

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