Youth sports isn’t as simple as youth deciding they simply want to play sports. For many, there are cost, geographic and social inhibitors that either prevent participation or lead to youth dropping out of sports at an alarming rate. In this LA84 Summit panel, four sports-minded leaders who have made it their life’s work to open up opportunities for youth discussed the issues young athletes face and both the policy and attitude changes needed to scale such a steep barrier facing so many.
Problems & Solutions
- Nationally, 70% of kids quit sports by age 13.
- LA84-funded Beyond the Bell middle school sports program has grown 57 percent since 2008-09, by retaining athletes and attracting new ones.
- LA84 coaching education programs emphasize the importance of creating a positive environment that makes sports fun.
Playing Smart: Solutions to the Youth Sports Dropout Problem Panelists
Rafael Acosta, Regional Director, LAUSD Beyond the Bell
Luc Robitaille, President, Business Operations, Alternative Governor, LA Kings
Jim Thompson, Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Positive Coach Allliance
Nichol Whiteman, Executive Director, Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation
Moderator: Mark Hyman, George Washington University, Author: The Most Expensive Game in Town: The Rising Cost of Youth Sports and the Toll on Today’s Families
Learning to Fail
While sports can be defined between who wins and who loses, the greater gains are taken from learning to cope no matter what situation presents itself. For Whiteman, her personal experiences in sport helped her develop a valuable trait that often is not brought up in youth development. “If I didn’t play sports, I would be able to accept failure,” she said as the surrounding crowd nodded in agreement. “There’s a lot of failure in sport.”
PANEL RECAP: Voices from the Field: Today’s Athletes
The Summit took place during the week before Halloween, and perhaps coincidentally, another crucial foe for young athletes was brought up: Fear. “Without sport, you don’t experience fear,” Thompson said. “Athletes are in an intense situation when they compete in games. They are expected to perform. By experiencing fear or even loss, you can bounce back from it.” While there are limits, the panelists seemed be in accordance on how sports can simulate real-life situations and problems in a safer, learning environment.
The Desire to Play
All of the panelists noted how at the end of the day, the young athlete needs to love practicing and playing in order to fight to stay in their sport against the factors that lead to dropping out. “The Dodgers Foundation is not about trying to develop the future Major League Baseball player,” Whiteman said. “It’s about developing ‘Major League’ citizens. Coaches observe a young person’s economic limits, family stress and physical strain.” So while a lot does come down to a player’s desire to participate, there are ways coaches and organizations can work together to create a youth sports environment designed for athletes to succeed.
The same goes for the attitude held by the players, coaches and parents. Thompson and the Positive Coaching Alliance said it is important to combat the ‘win-at-all-costs’ attitude in sports, one that can dissuade a large portion of youth. “Enjoy sports and accomplish the highest and best self from coaches and athletes,” Thompson said. “We all want to keep kids playing.”
Bringing Sports to the Youth
A six-letter word when it comes to youth sports participation? Access. For all the programs that are offered in Southern California, many are either cost-prohibitive or require too much travel and time investment on the side of both the young athletes and their parents. The Beyond The Bell program has addressed these issues in one fell swoop, setting up free after-school sports programs on-site at LAUSD middle schools.
PANEL RECAP: Equity in Play: Safety, Space & Money
Whiteman and the Dodgers Foundation have created Dodgers Dreamfields, refurbishing worn-down fields in the Los Angeles neighborhoods that need them most. For Robitaille, his hockey programs with the Los Angeles Kings provide the equipment and ice time, both commodities that aren’t always as affordable as other sports. “There should be a mandate that professional teams and players should be involved with youth sports in their communities,” Robitaille added.
See more from the Summit and the latest from LA84 here.