Fewer than half of children ages 6 to 11 meet the U.S. Surgeon General’s recommendation to engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity.
The needs of most children are not being met.
Start with the need to be active: fewer than half of children ages 6 to 11 meet the U.S. Surgeon General’s recommendation for engaging in at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week.(4) One way to address that deficit is through sport activity, especially team sports, as children often enjoy playing in groups. But fewer of them are doing so now than just a few years ago. The federal government does not track sports participation rates among preteens, but according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), which does, 40 percent of kids played team sports on a regular basis in 2013, down from 44.5 percent in 2008. Further, only 52.2 percent took part in those activities even once during the year, down from 58.6 percent.(5)
Kids Are Leaving Sports
Significant decline in participation among 6-12 year olds
The above data was the latest available when the Sport for All, Play for Life report was published in January 2015. Since then, we have begun to see a stabilization in participation rates, with several sports showing improvements, and several others continuing to drop (see our State of Play: 2016 report).
With less participation, there’s less movement. In 2013, fewer than one in three children ages 6 to 12 engaged in high-calorie-burning sport or fitness activities three times a week, according to SFIA.(6)
...And Are Physically Less Active Through Sport
Sport participation has been a tool of public health for more than a century. But today, most kids miss out. The problem disproportionately affects some groups and starts during the grade-school years.
Key Indicators of Early Success
Average age of entry into organized or team sports
Some children find ways to play on their own. But the era of the sandlot or unstructured play, of kids making up games and playing with friends for hours on end, is largely gone. Today, adult-led competition dominates and tryout-based, multi-season travel teams form as early as age 6, siphoning players from and support for in-town recreation leagues that serve all kids. We emphasize performance over participation well before kids’ bodies, minds, and interests mature. And we tend to value the child who can help win games or whose families can afford the rising fees. The risks for that child are overuse injuries, concussion, and burnout.(7)
After-school programs will serve other kids—though far too few—through middle school. But children in many urban and underserved areas often flow into high schools with little athletic experience and where sport options are limited. Sports participation rates among youth living in households with the lowest incomes ($25,000 or less) are about half that of youth from wealthier homes ($100,000+)—16 percent vs. 30 percent.(8) Overall, the dominant model in American sports lacks a commitment to inclusion and is shaped largely but not exclusively by money, leaving many children, families, and communities on the outside looking in.
Today's Broken Model
Pyramid does not make room for all children
We can do better than this.
PROJECT PLAY SUMMIT: The State of Youth Sports