Perspective

Whether it’s a parent trying to figure out which travel team to place their 8 year old child, or a country attempting to navigate a complex health care system, the mass exodus of children from organized sports is causing a crisis that is so devastating that most of us can’t fully grasp its impact.

Bill Dietz, director of the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness at George Washington University laments, “They should be as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof about the tsunami of diabetes that’s coming their way. The cost of this rise in the prevalence of obesity is going to be staggering.”

So what do those costs look like? The Aspen Institute has a program called Project Play, Reimagining Youth Sports in America. Below is a paragraph that highlights some of their findings related to this growing crisis:

Levels of physical activity inadequate to meet current guidelines are associated with a significant financial burden for the U.S. health care system, as much as $131 billion a year (CDC, 2015). Direct and indirect medical costs related to obesity are estimated at $147 billion a year, twice the size of the budget for the U.S. Department of Education. Direct costs are expected to more than double by 2030. Adults who are obese will face decreased earning potential, and employers will pay in the form increased health care costs. (Designed to Move, 2012). In total, lifetime societal costs are $92,235 greater for a person with obesity, and if all 12.7 million U.S. youth with obesity became obese adults, the societal costs over their lifetimes may exceed $1.1 trillion. (Brookings Institute, 2015)

Much like our youth sports crisis where so many children are quitting, and none of us parents are willing to admit that it could happen to our kid, this problem keeps snowballing. At what point is that slap upside the head going to kick in and get us thinking about this in a more serious manner? Unlike a pick-up game of whiffle ball, when it comes to our children’s development, we don’t get a “do over”.

Having spent the past twelve years intimately engaged in youth sports and child development, I have seen and heard almost everything. Parents justify their decisions to push their children into highly competitive programs at unbelievably young ages and say things like, “Joey just loves soccer.” Guess what, Joey’s 7 years old and the only thing he truly loves is his parents, his siblings, his dog and an ice cream cone. The minute Joey encounters some coach screaming and yelling at him during a soccer game, he’s done!

Then there’s the conversation that I have heard far too often between two moms. It goes like this:

Mom 1: “How’s Jenny doing in soccer?”

Mom 2: “Oh, Jenny quit soccer last season.”

Mom 1: “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.”

Mom 2: “Actually, it’s pretty nice now. We have our weekends back and it’s fun to do stuff as a family again.”

Mom 2 is the one who used to argue that Jenny loved soccer. She made the “A” team as a 9 year old, but by age 13 she had enough. Burned out! I often hear parents of teenagers lamenting, “I wish we hadn’t pushed so hard.” Sorry folks, no “do overs”.

As parents, we all get so caught up in the micromanagement of our children’s sports participation. Why.....because that’s what everyone else is doing. We are so afraid that our kid will get left behind if we don’t do everything possible to help him or her keep up. This fear is so incredibly powerful.

Here are three wonderful solutions to the aforementioned problems facing the health of our society:

  1. Help inform, educate and support parents in efforts to return sports participation to the children. Get adults out of the way and focus on the happiness and well-being of our kids. Let them play under their terms....not ours.
     
  2. Our health care organizations are spending billions on new hospitals. They see the tsunami coming and they want to be prepared. Why not earmark some of this money towards initiatives that get kids moving and attack our burgeoning obesity problem at the front lines?
     
  3. Record numbers of children are being cut from middle and high school sports teams. The model of Intramural Sports offered at colleges and universities across the country serves as a perfect solution at these younger levels. Let’s get the 75% of the kids who are quitting by age 13 back into the game at the intramural level where they can truly have fun again.

Schools complain that they don’t have enough money to fund these programs. Maybe this would be a nice place for the health care organizations to begin sharing the wealth!

- Steve Locker

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