Youth Sports and Physical Activity, Is It Really That Important?
Updated: Mar 18, 2021
It should come as no surprise that youth sports can be an extremely useful developmental avenue. Youth sports help build social, communication, and mental skills, all of which are in addition to the obvious physical benefits.
There are many factors that contribute to early participation (or lack thereof) like money, time, access, and even injury (1). The Aspen Institute wrote an excellent piece outlining and detailing all of these factors and what can be done to mitigate these issues for youth sports. If you’d like to do a deep dive into the difficulties of youth sports, then I would recommend starting with their article (linked above and below).
That being said, I will the experts who study and track youth sports speak more in-depth about that. What this blog is meant to highlight is the impact sports participation can have on health. Not just at the youth age, but when these young kids grow and become adults.
In a 2019 study they found that there was a strong link between low levels of cardiorespiratory fitness and obesity in adolescents and cardiovascular disease later in life (3). Now this seems obvious and that as parents we should make sure kids are from a young age to better set them up for the future. However, the problem is that very few children are participating not just in organized sports, but physical activity in general.
According to the 2018 National Physical Activity Plan Report Card on physical for Children and Youth only about 24% of children (6-17 y/o) and about 26% of high schoolers participate in 60 minutes of physical activity each day. To make matters worse, this low percentage of youth being physically active is then compounded by the fact that as children age, there is a significant drop in overall physical activity (2).
Again, there are many factors that contribute to this issue and there are far better experts that can speak on the intricacies of reversing the trend. But if there is one thing that I do not have to be an expert about to speak on it is that ALL children need it is physical activity…DAILY. Not just for their immediate health and well-being, but as the statistics show, for their futures.
60 minutes of activity should not be hard to come by. Each child should be averaging at least 60 minutes at school each day, at the very least. We should be encouraging kids to be physically active for the reasons previously stated. We should be letting young kids try as many different sports or activities as possible. Expose them to a variety of different environments, people, skills (physically, emotionally, and mentally).
Now, it is much easier said than done. It is apparent just from the research presented in this blog, not to mention the rest of the resources available, that this is a difficult problem to solve. However, if we want kids to grow up being active, learning to live a balanced, healthy life, and continuing those healthy habits into adulthood, then we need to come up with a system that promotes healthy, safe, long-term development. In the next ISP blog, we will go over what we believe is a good model of long-term athletic development.
1. The Aspen Institute, Project Play. https://www.aspenprojectplay.org/kids-sports-facts
2. National Physical Activity Plan. The 2018 United States Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth. http://www.physicalactivityplan.org/projects/PA/2018/2018%20US%20Report%20Card%20Full%20Version_WEB.PDF?pdf=page-link
3. Henriksson, H., Henriksson, P., Tynelius, P., Ekstedt, M., Berglind, D., Labayen, I., Ruiz, J.R., Lavie, C.J., Ortega, F.B. (2019). Cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular strength, and obesity in adolescence and later chronic disability due to cardiovascular disease: a cohort study of 1 million men, European Heart Journal, , ehz774, https://doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/ehz774