In contemporary American society, participation in sports is considered a rite of passage for children and adolescents. Over the past five decades there has been a fundamental shift in the context in which children become involved in sports. Prior to the 1950s sports were largely a matter for local communities to organize for their youth; since the early 1950s, however, sports have shifted from being youth-organized activities to adult-organized activities for the youth and from being fun oriented, spontaneous activity to highly organized competitions.1–3 Today's youth have little say in the conduct of the organized sports, which largely reflect adult perspectives. At the same time, one must acknowledge the tireless efforts of thousands of well-meaning adult volunteers making such sport experiences possible for youth.
At the outset, we should draw a distinction between professional and youth sports. In the professional athletics, sport is athlete's full-time occupation and he or she makes a living from sport. On the other hand for children and adolescents, sport is one of many activities they do as part of growing up. Within the context of American culture, the term youth sports refers to “any of the organized sports programs that provide a systematic sequence of practices and contests for children and youth.”1 Approximately 20 to 35 million children and adolescents participate annually in organized sport programs (Table 3-1).1–4 The most popular sports include football, basketball, track and field, baseball, softball, wrestling, tennis, swimming, volleyball, cross-country running, and golf. Approximately 80% of total participants are involved in nonschool programs, and 20% in school-based programs.1 There is a significant trend toward increasing participation in nonschool programs and decreasing participation in school programs. There is none to minimal research or published information on the youth who are not part of the organized sports and those who quit. Many children take part in other valuable alternative activities such as recreational sports, music, and various other arts. Many more enjoy walking, hiking, camping, and other equally healthy activities.
Table 3-1. Organized Youth Sports Programs ||Download (.pdf)
Table 3-1. Organized Youth Sports Programs
Intramural—Competition is between teams within a school
Interscholastic—Competition is between teams from different schools. These are governed by National Federation of State High School Associations.
Agency sponsored—These are local sports programs with national affiliation; usually limited to one sport, for example, Little League Baseball.
Club sports—Participants in these programs pay for services. Programs are conducted year round; competitive; and located in special facilities. For example, ice skating, gymnastic clubs.
National youth service organizations—Sport is just one of many youth activities; for example, YMCA.
Recreational programs—These programs emphasize fun and skill development, are noncompetitive, and all participate. For example National Recreation and Park Association programs.