Youth sports have been integral parts of children’s lives for decades, perhaps centuries. From playing baseball or pick-up soccer in local parks and alleys to organized recreation sports and clubs, kids are extremely active.
There are a number of benefits that come with participating in sports. One study shows that female high school students are 92% less likely to become involved with drugs or alcohol if they participate in sports.
Other studies show that sports participation increases leadership skills, which come into play later on in life and allow individuals to be more successful when they enter the workforce.
Team sports like soccer, cheerleading and football help develop cooperative skills. These sports are all about learning to work together towards a common goal, putting aside individuals desires and egos, and being supportive to one’s teammates.
Individual sports are more about self-discipline and controlling the mind. Many individual athletes like tennis players, figure skaters, or runners find their sports to be therapeutic. They’re likely to become more grounded individuals overall.
Other benefits are more upfront: physical fitness. During matches and games, athletes rarely stop moving. Even when they’re resting, they must keep their muscles loose. Stretching is important to prevent injuries, and on the sidelines, many athletes will bounce on the balls of their feet, just to keep moving.
Despite all of these benefits, many children are being pulled from competitive sports. Football, especially has taken a hit, literally and figuratively.
The sport’s violent nature as well as high risks of concussions have caused many parents to discontinue their children’s football careers.
This isn’t a minor drop, either. The number of youth football participants in New York City has dropped by the hundreds.
Big Apple Football offers tackle football for kids ages six to 14. Commissioner Courtney Pollins reports that after having 3,500 participants during the 2015-16 season, only 2,800 are enrolled this year.
Empire Youth Football, another city-wide organization, caters to the same age group, and has lost 300 participants this season.
The movie “Concussion,” starring Will Smith as a forensic pathologist whose research on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) among football players, was shielded by the NFL.
Plenty of football coaches have called the situation “fear mongering.” With proper athletic trainers, coaches, equipment, and knowledge on hand, the risk of injuries should be vastly reduced.
Many argue that sports participation for children should not be reduced, for a variety of reasons. Without youth participation, there would be no professional leagues. While concussions and injuries are reported there too, the degenerative risks are far fewer, since an adult brain is mostly, if not fully, developed.
Cooperation, discipline, and other benefits may also decrease if there were no youth sports, not to mention physical fitness.
But mostly, what the kids care about is having fun on the field or the pitch.
In 2012 the NFL created the “Heads Up Football” initiative to educate people at the youth level about proper injury prevention methods. Similar programs have been implemented among schools and private sports clubs to continue sports traditions.