According to a 2018 study conducted by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), a Project Play partner that provides custom data on youth participation to the Aspen Institute, 56.5 percent of American children ages 6 to 12 participated in team sports in 2017, at least on a limited basis. That same study found that 49.8 percent of children in that same age group participated in an individual sport in 2017, and 69.1 percent of that demographic participated in either a team or individual sport in 2017.
That final percentage is down a little from 2011, when 73 percent of children in that age group played a team or individual sport. This is interesting to me in that it feeds the popular idea that kids are playing less sports than before (some subscribe that to video games or computer-related activities taking over the free time of our youth).
Looking at other figures from the report, one that really stood out to me was the percentage of “kids who regularly participated in high-calorie-burning sports,” via the Aspen website. According to that SFIA study, 23.9 percent of children regularly participate in these types of activities and sports, down significantly from the 28.7 percent who participated in 2011.
So, basically — kids just aren’t getting out and “moving” like they did even seven years earlier, according to this study. Granted, studies can often be massaged into presenting statistics and figures that the person or group who designed the study desired, but this particular study looks pretty legitimate from what I can find, and the numbers seem like numbers one might expect.
In a nutshell, here’s the situation:
• We know that it’s good for people of all ages to get out and move;
• Kids are not, in fact, getting out and moving, at least in terms of participating in high-calorie-burning sports;
• Children are not participating in as many team or individual sports as before;
• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that “the percentage of children and adolescents affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s. Data from 2015-2016 shows that nearly 1 in 5 school age children and young people (6 to 19 years) in the United States has obesity.”
Obesity, by the way, is more than just fodder for inane reality television programming. It’s serious business for adults, and even more so for children and adolescents. The Mayo Clinic warned that childhood obesity could lead to Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure, asthma, sleep disorders, liver disease, depression, behavior and learning problems, low self-esteem and bone fractures. And it doesn’t normally just “go away” with age.
“Many obese children become obese adults, especially if one or both parents are obese,” the renowned clinic advised on its website.
Look, there is no question that it is a different world today than it was 40 years ago. Or 20 years. Or two years. If our job as parents is to truly prepare our children for the world we’ll be releasing them into one day, then we’d be failing in our responsibilities if we didn’t expose them to the technology around them. Life is hard enough — being woefully unprepared to take it on just adds to the difficulty level.
But so does poor health. And laziness.
Of course, the list of benefits of playing sports or getting outside and playing goes further than preventing obesity. Just playing face-to-face with other kids can develop critical social skills and teach about solving problems. Being on a team can help with working with others, reaching for shared goals and being accountable to others. Playing individual sports (think tennis or golf, amongst others) can help young people learn to face challenges head-on and truly learn to compete.
With the weather finally warming up and the action resuming at Lower Sussex and Millsboro Little Leagues — along with River Soccer, the schools and other tremendous sporting locales across our community — it’s a great time to make sure our kids are getting outside and taking advantage of all the opportunities available to, well, play.
Look, sports isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, and I certainly get that. It was a huge part of my life growing up, and the way I got to be friends with some of the people I’m still friends with today. It taught me equally how to fail and succeed, how to focus on the details if I wanted to get better and that nothing feels grander inside than earning something through hard work and perseverence.
But maybe it’s dance that gets your kid moving. Or nature walks. Or playing cops-and-robbers. Or, frankly, whatever. The weather is finally cooperating, and there can’t be any more excuses. Not for our kids. Not for ourselves. Not for our parents and grandparents.
Social media is fun. Streaming shows is addictive, and often awesome. The Internet can basically transport us wherever we need to go, and all of that is great.
But it’s time for us to shine now. Spring is finally here.