Sunday, April 29, 2018

Responsibility in Providing Sport

I had a great week at the National Association of Sports Commission's annual Symposium. The event was my fifth, and my favorite. I always relish the opportunity to catch up with old friends and meet new ones; and, Minneapolis was an exceptional host city.

A number of relevant topics were discussed at this year's symposium, but one that struck a cord with me: specialization in youth sports.

I know I've discussed this topic in passing before, but this time it caught my attention for a different reason. Traditionally, we hear the loud sirens blaring to warn us about burnout, overuse injuries and the like resulting from specialization of young athletes in one sport at young ages.

The good news is, according to the Sports Fitness Industry Association data presented at the symposium, indicators may be pointing to a shift in these trends...if not a shift, than perhaps a slowing. In other words, some startling previous data noted how young the peak ages for sports occurs and the average number of sports per youth was well less than 2. This means that kids were participating in fewer different sports and specializing at a younger age.
Courtesy: YMCA

Clearly this is problematic for a variety of reasons, but interestingly, the rise in specialized, competitive sports, also lent itself to bolstering the number of regional and national tournaments, and thus likely accounts for at least a portion of the "boom" in the sport tourism industry over the last couple decades.

Here comes the "BUT".

But...the SFIA data showed this phenomenon may be slowing through rising peak ages among sports, increasing total number of sports played by youth. Even though small increases, they are increasing none the less.

This is great news for the health and wellness of some of our youth. Note, SOME, not all.

However, what are the implications for the sport tourism industry? Will a potential increase in recreational opportunities result in decrease in team travel among youth? Is a plateau in the future?

The State of the Industry report presented at the symposium indicated, yet again, a rise in total value of the sport tourism industry to somewhere just a bit shy of $11 billion annually. It's important to note that these are self-reported numbers by industry members. Here is a link to the report from 2016's data.

My estimation is that while sport tourism is still flying high so-to-speak, caution should be exercised in terms of looking to the horizon and carefully monitoring these trends. Particularly as new venues are coming online nearly every week.

So back to the good news of health and wellness implications quickly. Increased peak ages, increased number of sports which a youth participates...these all sound like home runs for the industry, right? The answer is yes, but.

Frankly, not surprising, these odds are still astonishingly high that little of this change impacts youth participation for many of our community areas that need it most, our most under-served populations, and our most at-risk families for numerous dangerous socio, economic, and cultural indicators.

The "haves" and the "have nots" are still prevalent in area that should know no such boundaries. If your household income is more than $100k per year, good news, you can play as many sports as long as you want. Under $100k, sorry about your luck.
Courtesy: Project Play, Benefits of Active Kids
So that drives to the question, what is the responsibility of us, as deliverers of sport across the country from a variety of different industry segments, to change these statistics? This issue is not contained to inner-city kids in large markets, it's the kids in each of our community's struggling areas.

I contend as an industry, we must do more to address these needs, not just focus on room nights generated. What this looks like, I'm not quite sure, but I know there are groups in each of our communities, and at the national level (such as Project Play by the Aspen Institute), beginning to discuss these barriers and how to overcome them.

So leverage your role, be a part of the solution. It's one thing to acknowledge a problem exists, it's another to do something - anything - to fix it!

As Albert Einstein once said "Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile." This is Stoll on Sports.

Check out the Project Play's 7 Charts that Show Why We Need to Fix Youth Sports.