The Aspen Institute has released the 2022 State of Play report, an annual analysis of national trends in sports provision for youth ages 6 to 18.
Research shows both encouraging and discouraging trends in the world of youth sports. Participation in team sports took a big hit during the onset of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, and while it’s on the upswing, it hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels. Just 37 percent of kids ages 6-12 played team sports regularly in 2021, the most recent year of data available from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. It’s down from 38% in 2019 and 2020 and well below 45% in 2008, the highest score in decades. Sport participation on a regular basis increased slightly for 13-17 year olds in 2021.
Meanwhile, the number of hours kids played sports has returned to pre-pandemic levels, according to a new survey of parents of young athletes from the Aspen Institute. Hours of sport per week for the 6-18 age group were 16.6 in September 2022, exceeding pre-pandemic levels of 13.6.
Overall there is good news on the front of kids who have lost interest in playing sports. Children aged 6-10 saw a 2% decrease in children losing interest in sports between Fall 2021 and Fall 2022. The 15-18 age group decreased by almost 3%. The only age group that saw a slight increase in boys’ loss of interest in sports was 11-14 year olds, which increased by only 0.7%.
Tennis was arguably the biggest hit during the pandemic, with an additional 679,000 young people aged 6-17 between 2019 and 2021 taking part in the sport regularly. Pickleball has exploded during the pandemic for all ages, including youth. The sport attracted an additional 462,000 total participants aged 6 to 17 between 2019 and 2021, a staggering 83% increase.
The average family pays $883 a year in a child’s major sport. It’s down 6% from pre-pandemic costs previously reported by parents. The only aspect of annual spending that increased was travel costs for sports, which were up 19% in fall 2022 compared to pre-Covid.
One in three US parents whose sports expenses have increased since 2021 cited inflation as the No. 1 reason. Other factors included buying more or better equipment, choosing more frequent training, paying for more or better and the costs associated with more frequent travel. The annual inflation rate for the 12 months ending September 2022 was 8.2%.
“The inflation issue is a very real and worrying one,” he said Tom Cove, Chief Executive Officer of SFIA. “People still buy sports products. But at some point, when people see prices change, they can make discretionary choices and sport comes into play. The last thing you want to do is cut your kids, but you have to at some point.
The estimated annual money spent by households in the United States on their children’s sports activities in 2021 was between $30 billion and $40 billion, based on the Aspen Institute’s analysis of parent survey data.
The Fall 2022 parent survey showed the median annual cost for four sports: soccer ($1,188), basketball ($1,002), baseball ($714), and football ($581).
Households spent more on female athletes ($921) than male athletes ($844) on average. There was also a majority mismatch when it came to spending by race/ethnicity. Hispanic/Latino families spent $883 annually, white families spent $881 annually, and black families spent $574 annually.
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