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Youth Sports Breaking Records as Kids Charge Back Onto Playing Fields

24 Aug, 2021

By: Michael Popke

Here's some good news: youth sports is breaking all registration records, according to a new report.

The report was released by sports management and communications software provider TeamSnap, in collaboration with The Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program, the Families in Sport Lab at Utah State University and Louisiana Tech University’s Minds in Motion Lab. It notes the uptick can be traced to a combination of pent-up demand and parents wanting to decrease their children's screen time.

Either way, it’s welcome news to see record registration numbers for fall youth sports programs in some communities.

In the Twin Cities of Minnesota suburbs, for example, representatives from Prior Lake Athletics for Youth (P.L.A.Y.) and the Shakopee Youth Football Association (SYFA) say participation numbers are higher than they were even before 2020.

“Interestingly, we had three consecutive years of falling registration numbers,” Zach Brazier, the president of SYFA, told Southwest News Media. “Our big fear was after we canceled the season last year, we’d lose a noticeable percentage of players moving on to specialize in a sport or focus longer on the summer sports. … We suddenly have a ton of kids who have never played football [and] we suddenly have a lot of kids, who we thought were lost forever to baseball or lacrosse, [coming] back this season.”

P.L.A.Y., meanwhile, by mid-August was approaching 700 registrants for its fall football programs — an eight-year high, according to Adam Jerstad, vice president of P.L.A.Y. football.

The Northwest Florida Youth Sports Alliance’s football programs for players ages 5 to 14 are breaking registration records, too. More than 4,000 had signed up by mid-August. Representatives from the Pensacola-based organization told ABC affiliate WEAR-TV it was an all-time high. And football isn’t the only sport seeing a surge in signups. A recent annual youth soccer camp in West Branch, Pa., attracted so many participants between the ages of 5 and 14 that organizers worried they might run out of soccer balls.

And again, it all comes back to that pent-up demand, according to camp director Abe Stauffer.

“We didn’t have camp last year, and when the [registrations were] coming in my mailbox early in May, I thought ‘Wow, this is going to be incredible.’ I thought this was going to be a big one,” Stauffer told The Express in Lock Haven, Pa. “It is, it’s the biggest ever. We had 154 as of Sunday night and four people showed up Monday morning to register. Fortunately, I had enough soccer balls ready. It’s tremendous.”

Youth sports programs in Chicago and Detroit are receiving boosts, too. A new 150,000-square-foot youth sports facility broke ground on Chicago’s far west side in early August that will include the Jason Heyward Baseball Academy, named after the Chicago Cubs outfielder. The project also will include indoor and outdoor fields, fitness opportunities and mental health programs as part of the By The Hand Club for Kids (a Christ-centered afterschool program).

“To be able to bring something like this to this city, it’s huge,” said Heyward, who attended the groundbreaking and will help shape the facility’s programming, according to MLB.com. “Any inch you give us in this city, we take it and we can do so many special things. I just can’t wait to see what the future looks like for some of the kids that I’ve already had a chance to talk to.”

In Detroit, At Bat Inc. — a nonprofit amateur sports agency that provides youth baseball and softball opportunities — is teaching the fundamentals of both sports to the city’s impoverished youth and helping convert them into life skills. This summer, the organization hosted clinics for kids ages 6 to 13 and used sabermetrics to create drills that incorporated STEM disciplines, according to WKBD-TV, a CW affiliate in Detroit. During the fall, At Bat partners with schools to run afterschool programs to teach kids about the sports, as well as nutrition fundamentals, how to build self-esteem and how to apply academic concepts to the real world.

“It gives [kids] the opportunity to learn how to think on their own, so they can solve problems, no matter how they come at them,” Delrisha Hayes, At Bat’s founder, told the station in July, adding that she hopes to expand the programs throughout Michigan.

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