I have been wondering whether youth sports will come back the same as they were before the pandemic or whether there is a way to bring them back better.
I spoke to someone who spends much of her time thinking about youth sports. Linda Flanagan is a mom, runner, former coach and writer who lives in New Jersey. She wrote a book on youth sports that is coming out next year.
Flanagan thinks youth sports could come back better in a couple of ways.
“I hope this pause will cause parents to rethink the importance of kids’ sports in their lives. It’s my hope that some families will not return to the kind of competitive sports scene that most parents describe as insane.”
What kind of sports scene is that? The kind where kids start playing on teams at age 5, are on travel teams by age 7, go to faraway tournaments almost every weekend and are playing one sport year-round by age 10.
The kind of sports life that produces a few star players but lots of kids who give up sports by age 13 because they aren’t having fun.
Flanagan hopes some other systems will replace the expensive travel teams.
“It would be wonderful if humble town programs, boys’ and girls’ club teams, and other low-cost options could fill that void and our state and local leaders would fund them.”
That’s the second problem Flanagan would like to see fixed. A 2020 report by the Aspen Institute, a group that studies issues including youth sports, found that kids from wealthy families were twice as likely to play organized sports than kids from poorer families.
So Flanagan would like to see more sports in schools. But not just varsity teams that let only a few kids play. Flanagan would like to see more physical education and intramural sports that include everyone.
“We have a strange relationship with sports. Teams and sports are wildly popular, but the first things that gets cut when money gets tight are physical education and funding for local parks, where lots of kids play sports.”
Flanagan said that coaches, school administrators and the folks who run youth leagues will have to “be creative” to make this work. I think she’s right. Kids sports are coming back, but do we want them to come back the way they were before the pandemic? Maybe sports can come back better for more kids.