11 Things That Changed Youth Sports in 2023
By Melissa Wickes
December 27, 2023
2024 is officially around the corner and you know what that means: big changes are coming down the pike in youth sports.
While we all know things change quickly in this industry, a great way to predict what will happen in 2024 and how it will affect your day to day is to look at what happened over the last year.
Whether you’re spending this week crunching numbers to prepare for tax season or still enjoying eggnog, take a look at all of the ways the industry changed in 2023 to prepare for the season ahead.
Girls sports participation is increasing
The Aspen Institute’s State of Play 2023 analyzed a number of national trends in the delivery of youth sports, one of which was that youth sports participation is increasing for girls and declining for boys. While boys are still playing regularly at a higher rate (40%) than girls (35%), the participation rate for girls is the highest it has been since 2013.
More low income kids are playing sports
Also according to the 2023 State of Play, youth ages 6-12 from the lowest-income households increased regular sports participation for the fourth straight year. However, participation in the highest-income youth decreased.
Organizations like FundPlay Foundation are working to increase youth sports participation in underserved communities. You can read more about how here.
Wearables are becoming commonplace
Gadgets that monitor things like heart rate, sleep, and physical activity–like FitBit, Apple Watch, the Oura Ring, and Whoop–are becoming more common in youth sports. These devices help to maximize training programs as well as prevent injuries–win win!
High attrition rates remain a problem
The percentage of youth who stop playing a sport after a year increased in 2023. Tackle football (27%), flag football (32%), and basketball (31%) had the lowest churn rates in 2022–and track and field (56%), swimming (54%), and lacrosse (54%) had the highest.
The desire for player development is increasing
Kids want to be coached and they want to improve–and as a result we expect coaches and organizers to focus on player development. The most prepared organizations will utilize technology that offers effective communication, scheduling, and analytics in 2024.
Knee injuries are increasing
Torn ACLs in kids increased 12% between 2021 and 2022, according to research by the Hospital for Special Surgery and the Datalys Center. The sport with the highest rates of ACL injuries was girls soccer, followed by tackle football, girls basketball, and girls lacrosse.
Many youth sports organizations lack safety policies
Unfortunately, a survey by Players Health found that 56% of 685 recreational and travel sports organizations lack basic safety policies that govern one-on-one interactions between adults and minors and 47% don’t require abuse prevention training.
Private equity is investing billions into youth sports
Many youth sports organizations are consolidating, which has its pros and cons. While the system is becoming more efficient, this reduces program options for families. In other words, the smaller organizations are shrinking and the bigger organizations are growing. This only emphasizes the need for more government funding for recreational sports programs. Which brings us to our next point…
Governments are paying more attention
State governments are beginning to invest more money and attention into programs that use youth sports as a tool for development in disadvantaged communities.
The PLAY Sports Coalition–which advocates for the support of youth development programs–helped distribute previously unlocked state funding in Maryland and Massachusetts to provide one-year grants to programs like this. The PLAY Sports Coalition was co-founded by members of the LeagueApps team including LeagueApps president Jeremy Goldberg, and you can learn more about it here.
In fact, earlier this year Jeremy Goldberg appeared before the congressional Commission on the State of U.S. Olympics and Paralympics to prioritize increased funding and support for youth sports. This ask includes passing the PLAYS in Youth Sports Act which would establish a $75 million annual grant program to support nonprofit organizations working to improve health and youth development through sports.
As indicated by the last few years in youth sports, we expect to continue to see a focus on athlete mental health. It’s more important than ever before that coaches and organizers get educated on how to support the mental health of their players.
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Youth sports technology
It’s no surprise to anyone that youth sports organizations are investing more into technology that makes running their businesses easier—like youth sports management softwares.
If you’d like to start the new year off on a strong note, set up a call with one of our youth sports technology experts!