- “Pay-to-play” fees for youth sports have increased over the past five years, but budgets for sports have not. And lower-income families are more likely than middle- and higher-income families to report that cost is the reason why their children don’t participate in sports, according to the results of a RAND Corp. survey released Thursday.
- Responses on participation trends from school administrators, community-based sports program leaders and parents show that sports are the most popular extracurricular activity, with 64% of parents giving that answer, compared to 46% for the arts and 30% for academic programs. Participation in school sports has increased for females, while remaining the same for males, and has increased for both males and females in community-based sports.
- The authors recommend that schools and other youth sports programs eliminate fees as much as possible, especially for lower-income families, and seek financial support from foundations and other sources. They also encourage community collaboratives, such as sharing fields and equipment, to lower costs.
The respondents — both leaders and parents — agreed or strongly agreed that participating in sports teaches children teamwork, builds their confidence and helps them develop discipline and personal accountability. A majority of parents and school administrators also agreed or strongly agreed that sports teach students a commitment to academic excellence, leadership skills and time management.
The authors note, however, that research on the benefits of youth sports is mixed. Participation has been linked to reduced depression, better eating habits and being more physically fit. But findings vary on the connections between participating in sports and exhibiting risky behavior, such as alcohol, cigarette and drug use.
Research on the effects of participation on academic outcomes is generally positive, the authors say, but add that more research is needed in this area, especially on how sports benefit students from low-income families.
A recent article appearing in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice shows that as of December 2016, 17 states allowed sports participation fees and only one state, California, prohibited fees.
“This opens the door to wide variation of fees and processes and may contribute to inequities in sports participation for low-income students already at higher-risk for poorer health outcomes,” wrote author Amy Eyler of Washington University in St. Louis.
The review also shows that the laws in nine states allow fee waivers for students who cannot pay fees, often based on whether the student qualifies for subsidized meals.