Jan 10, 2023 • 5 min read
Youth sports is a $19 billion dollar industry and is still growing. While many youth sports leagues, programs and clubs slowed down or fully stopped during the pandemic, we’ve seen a positive return to play.
According to the Aspen Institute’s 2022 survey, team sports participation took a big hit during the start of the pandemic in in 2020 and into 2021, and while it’s trending upwards, it’s still not fully back to pre-pandemic levels. What is back, though, is the hours a child spends playing sports during the week.
Community-based programs were the saving grace during the pandemic and after. Many parents found themselves struggling to find a sport outlet for their child with many private clubs and organizations closed down. Community offerings took in a lot of families eager to continue playing sports. This trend will likely continue, as suggested by the Aspen Institute’s findings.
“More than half (58%) of children who participate in sports played their primary sport through community-based programming in Fall 2022, according to our latest youth sports parent survey. That’s a jump from 38% in Fall 2021, when the pandemic had a greater impact on playing opportunities. Meanwhile, the rate of youth playing travel sports doubled in the past year to 29%.”
Although many sports parents have proven they can in fact do it all, 2023 will be the year when sports parents turn to technology for some assistance. Sports technology has been a helpful tool for many busy sports parents, coaches, and organizers, however with these offerings there’s been a need for more. Expect to see more features come to light in 2023 with an emphasis on skill mastery, player development, coaching tips and more. At the forefront of these apps has always been communication and scheduling, but the next piece is how development on the field can also improve through technology.
We saw many moments of burnout in 2022; a result perhaps of over-doing it and making up for lost time post-pandemic. However, the solution is still a grey area. This year, expect to see coaches, league organizers, club admin and more prioritize young athletes’ mental well-being in an effort to also prevent burnout. Organizations will also hopefully find ways to protect their coaches from being over-worked and tasked with too many responsibilities.
Sports organizations are introducing mental health through seminars, weekly meetings, and more as part of their curriculum. Youth sports are no longer just about getting to the next team or setting the foundation for athletic success, it’s also about talking about how the children are feeling, what they need, and taking a pulse check every now and again. As the conversation around mental health has improved, expect to see it continue to be a topic and focus in youth sports.
It’s impossible to look up anything about sports without seeing some mention of pickleball these days. From LeBron James to Tom Brady, everyone seems to be investing in the sport or playing it in their spare time. It will be interesting to see if the game picks up at the youth level, because it has certainly hit the main screens amongst everyone else.
Expect to see more DEI initiatives than ever this year. All across the U.S. we’ve seen a DEI campaigns and efforts increase, and in the sports world in particular, major efforts around diversity.
Quadball was created in conjunction with US Quidditch and Major League Quidditch in an effort to distance themselves from J.K. Rowling’s controversial dialogue. Another effort, made by the NFL, worked together with the NFL Physicians Society and the Professional Football Athletic Trainer Society to launch NFL Diversity in Sports Medicine Pipeline Initiative. This initiative will “provide medical students at the four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) medical schools with the opportunity to complete a clinical rotation with NFL club medical staff.” These are only a couple examples of diversity efforts in sports, so expect to see many more particularly within the youth sports world.
As 2023 is now upon us, we can reflect on the past few years as somewhat a pause, a comeback, a slow start, and now the start. Many are looking at this year as the year that everything gets back to “normal”, but rather let us observe it as another year where young athletes can find more safe ways to play sports, develop under committed coaches, and thrive under the guidance and support of dedicated parents and communities.