This past week, the New York Times published a story about the decline in youth soccer participation in the US. According to the report, over the past three years, the percentage of 6- to 12-year-olds playing soccer regularly has dropped nearly 14 percent, to 2.3 million players. The number of children who touched a soccer ball even once during the year, in organized play or otherwise, also has fallen significantly.
While kids’ attention to sports has been largely lured away by hand-held technology devices, there are other factors at play. The Times reports that high burnout rates from pushing children into travel soccer too young as well as the high costs of programs have also contributed to the lower numbers. These are issues that Backyard Sports Cares sees on a daily basis. Kids want to have fun when they play – and playing soccer shouldn’t be an exclusionary sport based on socioeconomic rank.
In 2014, we instituted the Backyard Sports Soccer League. This program specifically targets low-income children to give them a full soccer experience, including coaching, mentoring, and competitive play. In four years, we have gone from 75 to more than 250 players, and we have grown our team numbers from 8 to 18. We specifically identify children who cannot afford the high cost of playing and children who have never been exposed to the game. We work with local schools and agencies to make the organization a stakeholder in the program. This allows us to enhance our relationship both with the community and the families that participate.
Bringing sports like soccer to kids who live in under-served Westchester neighborhoods is fundamental if we are to help build healthy engaged communities who raise healthy well-adapted kids.