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Feature Story

January 2018


Youth Sports Participation Increases for Underserved Kids

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By Dave Ramont

The Youth Sports Collaborative Network (YSCN) is a membership association for nonprofit organizations that provide sports-based youth development programs for kids from underserved communities. Recently, the YSCN completed its first national survey of nonprofits across the United States providing sports-based youth development (SBYD) programs for low-income children. And the results were encouraging, especially when considering that budgets for these types of programs are shrinking and childhood obesity rates are growing.

Some 64 programs in 27 cities and towns participated in the survey, and 72 percent of them reported one-year growth in the number of kids involved with their programs in 2016, with the total number of kids in these programs growing by 26 percent.

Rob Smith, founding executive director of YSCN, feels that these numbers are even more encouraging since overall sports participation has been declining. He was also pleased by the variety of sports being provided by the 64 participating programs, "…from traditional sports such as soccer and basketball, to an unexpected wide array of sports and fitness activities such as squash, hiking, indoor rowing, Ultimate Frisbee and Zumba," Smith said.

The increase in participation reflects the dedicated effort of these programs to include more children, according to Smith, coupled with the fact that there's a lack of opportunities for these activities, thus attracting more children and their parents. Unfortunately, to keep participation numbers rising depends on securing additional new funding, which Smith said was overwhelmingly identified by survey respondents as their biggest challenge in 2017. "One of the primary goals for forming YSCN was to help increase the awareness of SBYD programs helping low-income children, and in turn increase the financial support from foundations, government agencies and individual donors."

The survey revealed that programs commonly took place at local schools, most often after the school day, with individual programs serving from as few as 12 to as many as 20,000 children. Other findings include: 59 percent of participating programs offered one sport, while 41 percent offered multiple sports; 83 percent of the programs provided a minimum of 60 minutes of daily exercise three or five days a week; 88 percent stated their programs provided more than 18 weeks of sports or fitness activities during the year. Additionally, the top five sports being provided are soccer, basketball, running, lacrosse and volleyball.

Smith pointed out that obesity rates are higher for kids from low-income families as opposed to those from more economically-advantaged families as a result of having less opportunities to play sports. "In addition to the health benefits that can be carried on into adulthood," said Smith, "sports help children learn how to cooperate with others to achieve a common goal within accepted rules. Further, for many of these programs, the sports or fitness activities enable them to provide additional important youth development, support academics, community service, work experience and leadership."

Smith said that YSCN plans to make the survey an annual undertaking, and hopes that more groups offering these programs will get on board. "It will be interesting to see when the survey is conducted again in 2018, and hopefully with more programs taking the survey, what the growth rate will be for 2017."


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