The Washington Post

It’s time to fix sports: Let all kids play, make teams affordable

- FRED BOWEN kidspost@washpost.com Bowen writes the sports opinion column for Kidspost. He is the author of 26 sports books for kids. His latest book is “Soccer Trophy Mystery,” published in September.

Slowly, youth sports are coming back. Kids are playing pickup basketball at local parks. I see young athletes wearing their team shirts at the grocery store. High school football and soccer scores are in the newspaper again.

After 18 months when kids did not play as much because of the coronaviru­s pandemic, it’s good to see the games return.

I have been wondering whether youth sports will come back the same as they were before the pandemic or whether there is a way to bring them back better.

I spoke to someone who spends much of her time thinking about youth sports. Linda Flanagan is a mom, runner, former coach and writer who lives in

New Jersey. She wrote a book on youth sports that is coming out next year.

Flanagan thinks youth sports could come back better in a couple of ways.

“I hope this pause will cause parents to rethink the importance of kids’ sports in their lives. It’s my hope that some families will not return to the kind of competitiv­e sports scene that most parents describe as insane.”

What kind of sports scene is that? The kind where kids start playing on teams at age 5, are on travel teams by age 7, go to faraway tournament­s almost every weekend and are playing one sport yearround by age 10.

The kind of sports life that produces a few star players but lots of kids who give up sports by age 13 because they aren’t having fun.

Flanagan hopes some other systems will replace the expensive travel teams.

“It would be wonderful if humble town programs, boys’ and girls’ club teams, and other low-cost options could fill that void and our state and local leaders would fund them.”

That’s the second problem Flanagan would like to see fixed. A 2020 report by the Aspen Institute, a group that studies issues including youth sports, found that kids from wealthy families were twice as likely to play organized sports than kids from poorer families.

So Flanagan would like to see more sports in schools. But not just varsity teams that let only a few kids play. Flanagan would like to see more physical education and intramural sports that include everyone.

“We have a strange relationsh­ip with sports. Teams and sports are wildly popular, but the first things that gets cut when money gets tight are physical education and funding for local parks, where lots of kids play sports.”

Flanagan said that coaches, school administra­tors and the folks who run youth leagues will have to “be creative” to make this work. I think she’s right. Kids sports are coming back, but do we want them to come back the way they were before the pandemic? Maybe sports can come back better for more kids.

 ?? HASAN SHAHEED/SHUTTERSTO­CK ?? As kids return to sports in the pandemic, it’s time to make teams better. Writer Linda Flanagan says they should avoid too much traveling and charging expensive fees.
HASAN SHAHEED/SHUTTERSTO­CK As kids return to sports in the pandemic, it’s time to make teams better. Writer Linda Flanagan says they should avoid too much traveling and charging expensive fees.
 ?? STUART MONK/SHUTTERSTO­CK ??
STUART MONK/SHUTTERSTO­CK
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