Who's the Child?

By Published on .

Workplace safety has become a major concern for umpires and referees of youth team sporting events. In June, a spectator assaulted a youth hockey league referee in Taunton, Mass. And last year, in San Fernando, Calif., the angry father of a benched 11-year-old beat up his son's coach.

A recent survey of 2,820 parents of 6- to 17-year olds, conducted for the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA) by American Sports Data Inc., found that nearly a quarter (24 percent) of parents are “completely dissatisfied� with spectator behavior at Junior's games, and an additional 25 percent are only “somewhat satisfied.� Twenty-four percent also say they are dissatisfied with the quality of officiating, and 29 percent are similarly peeved about how team organizers communicate with parents.

But once they finish yelling at each other, the coaches and the officials, parents do find positive things to say about organized team sports. Ninety-three percent agree that it benefits their kids by promoting personal growth, and that it nurtures more wholesome lifestyles (86 percent), good moral behavior (84 percent) and healthier eating habits (73 percent).

The kids seem to agree, or at least have their own reasons for playing, judging by the numbers who participate. Despite hours frittered away watching the tube, playing video games and surfing the Internet, the majority of kids are still finding time to head out to the local park or schoolyard. Of 48 million children, ages 6 to 17 in the continental U.S., 74 percent have participated in the past year in at least one of 18 team sports tracked in the study. Twenty-six million of these youngsters are organized team sports participants, having played on a club, league or school team, with scheduled games and regulation play. And, while overall, team sports participation is on the decline, according to the report, that's still 54 percent of all kids, enough to fill Dodger Stadium more than 460 times.

But not all kids aspire to be baseball players. In fact, the most popular organized youth team sport today is basketball, with 10 million kids across America — 4 million girls and 6 million boys — shooting hoops. Soccer comes in next, with 9.6 million participants. In fact, 1 out of 5 kids play either one, the other or both: 21 percent of 6- to 17-year-olds play basketball and 20 percent play soccer.

Girls are literally leveling the playing field: More than 11 million, or 48 percent, of all girls play organized team sports, accounting for 44 percent of all youth athletes. The No. 1 sport among girls is soccer, played by almost 4.2 million girls, followed by softball (4.1 million), basketball (3.8 million), volleyball (2 million) and cheerleading (1.8 million).

Among young men, baseball remains the most popular team sport, with almost 7 million boys donning their stirrup socks and taking the field, amounting to 46 percent of all male team players. After baseball, the top male youth sports are basketball (6.2 million), soccer (5.4 million) and tackle football (2.9 million).

Regardless of what sport their child plays, however, almost all parents (99 percent) believe that participation in team sports promotes improved physical fitness. While that statement may seem to fall in the “duh,� category, the authors of the report believe the findings may have great significance for youth sports promoters. “Team sports have always occupied a ‘recreational’ niche in the public mind,� write the authors. “Given the present child obesity crisis, the recently enacted Physical Education for Progress (PEP) legislation and other pending industry initiatives, this universal belief offers an opportunity to leverage youth sports as an antidote to child inactivity and a vehicle to improved physical well-being.�

Playing the fitness card just may work for marketers who tout team spirit to this lucrative bunch. Fully one-third (33 percent) of organized youth sports participants' parents have household incomes in excess of $75,000. Now there's some incentive to look past the parental tantrums.

For more information, please visit the SGMA at www.sportlink.com.

You Talkin' to Me?

Just 46 percent of parents with kids involved in organized baseball, basketball, football and soccer say they are extremely or very satisfied with the quality of officiating that takes place at the games.

EXTREMELY/

VERY SATISFIED
SOMEWHAT

SATISFIED
NOT SATISFIED

AT ALL
Availability of facilities 59% 21% 20%
Condition of facilities 54% 26% 20%
Child's progress acquiring skills 62% 22% 16%
Coaches' teaching skills 56% 22% 22%
Quality of officiating 46% 30% 24%
Communication with parents 47% 24% 29%
Sportsmanship of players 61% 22% 17%
Behavior of spectators 51% 25% 24%
Source: American Sports Data Inc.
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