As a kid growing up in Wellesley, there was nothing I looked forward to more than getting to play Little League Baseball. The smell of big league chew, the sound of the aluminum bats hitting the ball— everything about it was perfect for a kid who loved sports. So, I was surprised to learn that Little League has declined in Wellesley over the past years.
In the past seven years, the number of teams in the division for sixth and seventh graders has been cut in half. They have opened teams up to kids of younger ages to try out for a position on the team. To explain this, some point to America’s declining interest in the sport altogether, some to the larger access to technology such as iPads or iPhones, and some to other sports such as lacrosse or soccer.
But it’s not just Wellesley or baseball. Youth participation in sports has been in decline across the board. In the past fifteen years youth participation fell to 37% in 2021, a steep drop from the 45% participation rate in 2008. Why the drop-off?
A leading cause in this decline is the cost of play. From gloves to pads to helmets, youth sports are expensive. According to The Aspen Project, the average family pays $883 annually for a child’s primary sport. This price tag inevitably alienates some from participating in youth sports organizations.
Another leading cause is the pressure that parents put on their children to excel in their sports. As many Wellesley athletes and parents can attest, there is no shortage of parents who eagerly want their kids to be the next super athlete. From tournaments every weekend to private lessons, it’s easy for parents to lose track of youth sports’ goal– to have fun. According to the Aspen Project, most kids quit their sport by the age of eleven, with the average participation rate being just below 3 years.
Yet hope for youth sports is still very much alive. After the pandemic, youth sports for those under the age of 8 have increased, and it seems that youth sports have been recovering.
I spoke with Bennett Fisher, a representative of the Wellesley Little League. Although he has seen a decrease in participation for those in sixth in seventh grade, participation by kids ages 6-9 is at a record high..
Youth sports have taken a turn, and the pandemic exacerbated the decrease, but that is not to say they will not rebound in the next few years. It is essential that parents safely encourage their kids to play sports as well as youth sports organizations realize the true cost of play. With increased sentiment to make youth sports safer and more affordable, youth sports will come back stronger than ever.