back arrow JOPERD Table of Contents

Reimagining the Youth Sport System Across the United States: A Commentary From the 2020–2021 President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition Science Board

Meredith A. Whitley, Alan L. Smith, Travis E. Dorsch, Matthew T. Bowers, Erin E. Centeio & the 2020–2021 President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition Science Board

joperd cover

When young athletes are faced with challenges in learning a new skill, executing a game plan, or overcoming barriers such as lack of equipment or space, youth, and the adults who support them, find ways to adjust. Hoops are lowered for beginning basketball players, starting lines or boundaries are drawn in the dirt, soccer “goalposts” are created from whatever is handy, and so on. These are important adaptations and examples of human ingenuity. They are also acknowledgments that youth have different developmental needs than adults.

In recent decades, the youth sport model has become more professionalized, with these adaptations arguably less directed toward ensuring broad access and development and more focused on competitive prospects and outcomes. In other words, the needs of the developing child and society are often secondary to the cultivation of highly talented performers, celebration of competitive success and maintenance of an ever-growing business model (Gregory, 2017). Researchers and practitioners have called for changes to the youth sport system (e.g., long-term athlete development), yet adoption of these recommendations has been slow, and the challenge of ensuring young people’s holistic well-being persists (Gould, 2019). This prevents youth sport from achieving its full potential as a context for inclusion and belonging, connection to the community, positive development and promotion of lifelong participation in physical activity.

There is a pressing need for evidence-based, innovative, coordinated action across all persons and contexts that influence the development, health, and well-being of young people. This includes the youth sport system, defined by Dorsch et al. (2020) as “the set of interdependent persons (i.e., parents, siblings, peers, and coaches) and contexts (i.e., organizations, communities, and societies) that have the potential to influence or be influenced by an athlete’s behaviors, attitudes, experiences, and outcomes in youth sport” (p. 2). The purpose of this commentary is to propose changes across levels of the youth sport system that can most effectively cultivate the development, health, and well-being of youth across the United States. This reimagining of the youth sport system includes a set of actionable takeaways that should be applied expeditiously in this developmental context. These ideas are presented with an eye toward (re)establishing youth as the central focus, beneficiary, and authority within the integrated youth sport system, which is essential for meeting young people’s physical, mental, emotional, and social needs.

To read the rest of this article, click here to download a pdf.

Read the Full Cover Story