The Big Business Of Youth Sports

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School and town youth sports leagues are being replaced by privatized, professionalized club teams. We ask what it means when youth sports go pro.

Players take part in a soccer match. (Jon C. Hancock/AP)
Players take part in a soccer match. (Jon C. Hancock/AP)

Once upon a time, American kids went out for Little League and school sports and, once in a while, a hometown hero went on to college sports glory, maybe even the pros. These days, a new model has widely moved in. Private club sports – with families paying big money and kids traveling all over – are huge. Children as young as five and six getting ranked and shuttled around the country. A lot of dreams and egos, talent and dollars taking over. This hour, On Point: when kids’ sports go, kind of, pro. --Tom Ashbrook.


Sean Gregory, Senior Writer covering sports for TIME Magazine. (@seanmgregory)

Jon Frankel, Correspondent for HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.”

Angie Coe, Mother of 13-year old twins, Ely and Jasmine who was featured in Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel’s” episode “Youth Sports, Inc."

Bob Bigelow, Former NBA-player for the Boston Celtics, Kansas City Kings, and San Diego Clippers who now advocates for reforming youth sports. Author of "Youth Sports: Still Failing Our Kids - How to Really Fix It."

From Tom's Reading List

TIME: How Kids’ Sports Became a $15 Billion Industry — "Across the nation, kids of all skill levels, in virtually every team sport, are getting swept up by a youth-sports economy that increasingly resembles the pros at increasingly early ages. Neighborhood Little Leagues, town soccer associations and church basketball squads that bonded kids in a community--and didn't cost as much as a rent check--have largely lost their luster. Little League participation, for example, is down 20% from its turn-of-the-century peak. These local leagues have been nudged aside by private club teams, a loosely governed constellation that includes everything from development academies affiliated with professional sports franchises to regional squads run by moonlighting coaches with little experience."

The Miami Herald: Does Your Kid Play Sports? Chances Are, You're Shelling Out Big Bucks To Travel — "HBO’s “Real Sports” recently took a deep dive into a booming business — youth sports tourism. It finds that travel teams have fueled what it calls “an unprecedented sports tourism boom” over the past decade. In 2016, Real Sports reports that families spent more than $10 billion on the road."

Changing The Game Project: The Adultification of Youth Sports — "Youth sports has become less a tool to educate children about sport and life, and more often a place where parents go to be entertained by their kids. They pay good money, add a great deal of chaos to their lives, and spend their valuable time travelling far and wide watching their kids play sports. When the product they see on the field does not live up to their perceived notion of the value of their investment, they get upset at the kids, the coaches, and at the schools and clubs. They want their moneys worth. They want to be entertained. But at what cost?"

This program aired on August 31, 2017.


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