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Keep ‘Em Playing: Strategies for Building Positive Sport Experiences

Karen Collins and Robert Barcelona

strategies cover september october 2018

Recent reports on youth sport participation continue to show alarming trends. Participation rates have been declining, particularly among children ages six to 12 years old. According to the Aspen Institute’s Project Play (2016) initiative, fewer young people are participating in organized team sports today than they were in 2008. Declining participation rates have been recorded from 2008 to 2015 in a diverse array of team sports, including baseball, basketball, soccer, track and field and tackle football (Aspen Institute Project Play, 2016). Other studies have shown that up to or more than 30% of youth drop out of sports each year (Balish, McLaren, Rainham, & Blanchard, 2014), with the dropout process starting at age nine and accelerating after age 11 (Gardner, Vella, & Magee, 2016).

The reasons behind these declines in youth sport participation include a variety of intrapersonal, interpersonal and structural factors, including lack of enjoyment, lack of perceived competence, stress, negative team dynamics, negative relationships with coaches, pressure, and lack of time, among others (Crane & Temple, 2015; Gardner et al., 2016; Perry, 2013). Declining sport participation rates are concerning for a variety of reasons, including that the decreasing levels of physical activity and increasing rates of obesity among children and youth are significant areas of concern for sport professionals (Aspen Institute Project Play, 2015).

Unfortunately, the current youth sport landscape has grown increasingly complex. Th e demands of sport specialization, the prevalence and growth of private sport clubs, an increased focus on travel and competitive sports, the pressure to play on multiple teams in the same season, and the ever-increasing fi nancial costs to participate have all created challenges for youth sport reform eff orts. Th ese demands have been shown to create conditions such as overtraining and stress that lead to sport burnout — and ultimately to sport dropout.

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