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Kids Play, Families Pay

Future of Youth Sports Team
Youth Sports Team / Apr 15, 2022
Youth Sports
Mapping the Youth Sports Industrial Complex

Once, youth sports meant some hodgepodge of stickball, two-hand touch and pickup games of H-O-R-S-E at the local playground. The rules accounted for inventive geography (“The giant tree is out of bounds”) and group policing of cheaters (“You have to count M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I”). The equipment was mostly secondhand—and precious, with hours spent looking for the “good” ball lost in the shrubs.

Odds against a youth soccer player going on to play on a Division 1 NCAA team

  • 96:1

    Girls

  • 238:1

    Boys

Kids self-organized only as much as necessary, and only as much as you and your friends could tolerate. Things got slightly more serious for those who played little league, before jumping up a level of intensity in high school. Money was rarely part of the conversation, with youth sports embodying the blend of avid competition and joyful play that gives the word amateur meaning.

In recent years, however, youth sports has come to mean something very different. Nationally touring AAU teams, personal coaches, expensive equipment, high-pressure tryouts for elite teams, and frequent air travel. And billions upon billions of dollars spent by parents. In other words, youth sports have come to look increasingly like professional sports.

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