Getting young people involved in sport is a tough job. The evolution of modern computing technology has shaped how children interact with the outside world. Technology has been a constant blame for the increasing rise in obesity and decreasing rates in sport participation. But there’s another factor that is perhaps contributing to a decrease in sport participation. The ever increasing cost of sport combined with it’s professionalization has perhaps forced those who cannot afford sport out of mainstream sports. This should be a concern for anyone within the academic field of sport and recreation management.
Two articles discuss the context of youth sport involvement in different ways. In Sportonomics: Youth sports training goes high tech – and high cost, Youth development and athlete pathways are discussed as the professionalization of sport means advanced coaching, but more importantly, advanced spending. In Massive Competition in Pursuit of the $5.7 Billion Canadian Youth Market, the entire youth sport market is analyzed within the Canadian context. While both articles focus on different aspects of youth sports, the both raise issues that are significant to both youth sport and sport moving forward.
The most important issue raised in both articles is the cost of doing sport, for both children and youth. In Sportonomics, children are constantly pressured into being specialized with advanced training regiments, while in Massive Competition, the cost of just doing the basics of sport is analyzed. For a hockey centric market like Canada, where hockey is part of the national identity, both articles point out the issue of cost. Hockey is the 2nd most expensive sport out of a list of 44 sports and recreation activities according to Massive Competition, while the cost of actively moving up and being involved in elite level of sports is constantly increasing. The cost of participating in sport for youth has gotten to the point that some families might not be able to afford putting their kids in the program of their choosing, which many people might seem unfair. Now you have organizations such as Canadian Tire introducing programs like Jumpstart that look to provide open access to underprivileged children who cannot afford the cost of sports. Cost is certainly a main issue raised within both articles, but it’s not the only one.
Both articles bring up the issues of professionalization of sports. While one article is more of an editorial on the cost of advanced training and the other more oriented to displaying the results of current research, both articles outline the growing professionalization within youth sport. Sportonomics showcases how sport is becoming more streamlined for youth, as it becomes more and more important for young children and adults to choose a sport and start training at an elite level if they are to play that sport at an elite level further down the line, perhaps leading to a sports scholarship. This is despite criticism of this method from one of these advanced trainers themselves, Matt Nicol, who explains in the article that children under the age of 14 should be participating in a variety of sports. In the Massive Competition article, the costs of sports are displayed and show that the more competitive and elite sports become, the higher the cost, time and energy commitments become, which reflect how the professionalization of sports is taking up more and more time for the average Canadian family. The question now becomes what do these trends mean and where are youth sports going?
So why do these issues matter? They matter not just for academics within sports and rec, but also for the average Canadian family. It explains a lot to how sport has evolved in the past, as some kids are pushed into one sport at a very young age. It can matter to how children participate in sports and rec. As the cost of sport increases, more and more families will be unable to provide the necessary resources needed to engage kids at an elite or even amateur level. As professionalizaton within sports increases, it becomes more difficult for young adults to vary their recreation focus, which means they could miss out on activities or games that might interest them, yet they have never tried them. I know at a personal level, not having neither the money nor time to invest in youth sports from my parents negatively affected my ability to participate in organized sport. I wasn’t able to participate in hockey as it was too expensive and by the time I could afford it, it was already too late for me to have the skills to play at a higher level. In that sense, it is important for parents and organization to step back and determine if these high cost, elite level professionalism is worth it for their children.
What does this mean for sport and rec managers? Sport and rec managers, especially those that work within the youth sports industry, should look to examine how both increased costs and increased professionalism drives youth sign up numbers. Managers should also look to examine the impact that these numbers have on the organizations themselves. For a growing trend towards increased obesity rates and decreased participation rates, it is up sports managers to make their organizations appealing for kids. Maybe not all kids are looking for an elite level of sport, and perhaps, not all parents can provide the necessary resources for their children to be involved at an elite level. In this sense, managers must be aware of how shifting perceptions within the sport and rec industry might affect participation rates.
So how do I interpret this in terms of a critical view of sport and recreation? Sport and recreation, especially with regards to youth, are important in allowing people in integrate within their larger community. With fair access to sports and recreation, integrating within the local community becomes more difficult, while providing an unfair advantage to those who have the necessary resources. This becomes apparent after examining the Physical Activity Council report on 2015 participation rates, as the article not only outlines hare participation is decreasing within youth, but also portrays how the year-to-year cost of being involved within a formal sports organization is increasing.
Furthermore, it is important that sport and recreation organizations actively engage with the different level of governments to increase participation rates, while also allowing for different levels of accountability along the way. Within Havaris and Danylchuk’s article, they examine the accountability of government and how they are funding NSO’s. It is important that a tight establishment between the government and NSO’s are maintained if we are to try and reverse or halt the trend of declining participation.
Finally, we must look at current frameworks put into place by leaders within the government. If you examine the Public Policy Framework for Participation and Excellence in Sport, the framework will show current initiatives being implemented to try and dictate participation in sports. As academics within the sport and rec world,it is important to analyze what is currently being done to the combat perceived negative trends within the sport and rec world. In this sense,we must analyze what strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats exist with current frameworks and how these frameworks can be improved for the future.
Youth sport and participation is at a critical juncture. While these sports move towards increased costs and increased professionalism, sport and rec organizations also face a downward trend of participation. Perhaps it is time that organizations reflect on what is needed to get everyone equal access for participation, as the cost of doing sports starts reaching critical mass.