Up until recently, the word ‘Gap’ used to refer to a store in the mall. Now, thanks to Malia Obama’s decision, it has come to symbolize a growing trend among high school seniors to delay college for a year. The resulting ‘gap year’ is often filled with travel or pursuit of other bucket list items.
That trend, which originated in Europe and Australia, is catching fire here. An article in Travel Weekly cited research conducted by the American Gap Association (yes, there is one) showing that gap year program providers (yes, there are those as well) saw a 23 percent increase in enrollment in 2015 over 2014, and there has been a 294 percent increase in attendance at gap year fairs (and yes, there are those as well) around the country since 2010.
The question, however, is what the gap year means for sports business. And really, that might better be answered by what governing bodies are planning to encourage.
Since the gap year is often dedicated to self-improvement, it might be the time for sports that offer adult leagues to market themselves to gappers. Not everyone has the money to travel abroad, and many high school grads might be taking that year to work on fitness and health goals. This is a golden opportunity for sports, particularly those that don’t get adults until they hit an older age, to promote recreational and league programs and competitions. For the student, it’s a chance to increase sports skills that will make him or her more interesting to a college coach the following year, and perhaps result in more playing time.
Count on gappers to pursue big goals as well: participation in marathons, tough obstacle races and functional fitness competitions are going to be things the student can spend time training for and setting aside time to research. Hiking or running particularly challenging routes such as the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail are also popular goals for the gap year, and offer event owners another opportunity. Event owners who recognize this, and who market themselves at gap fairs or through schools, may find yet another avenue for growth, as well as a new revenue stream.
Volunteer service is also a hallmark of the gap year, so sports organizations that also promote community service may find this an outstanding recruitment tool.
Elizabeth Cauchois, a program advisor for voluntourism company Projects Abroad, noted the gap year is on the rise – and that it’s far from being filled with students who don’t want to face reality.
“Some of this can be attributed to the rebounding economy,” Cauchois said. “But it can also be attributed to a cultural shift, where it is more common to take time off to travel. The idea of going straight from high school to college to a job for the next 30 or so years has dramatically changed, and it has become much more commonplace to take some time to decide what it is you want to do in life, and how you can make that a reality.”