According to US Youth Soccer, 103,432 kids were playing the sport through their organization in 1974. Forty years ago, the future of soccer was unknown, as other youth sports were overwhelmingly more popular. And forty years ago, few would have predicted how widespread soccer would become, with approximately 3 million kids registered in 2014—a number that’s been mostly steady for the past 15 years.
Youth sports are continually evolving. Participation numbers for some sports decline; others rise. But the general nature of youth sports is also changing. For example, 50 years ago, many parents were barely involved in their children’s teams; now, it’s become a social event for players and adults alike. And the changes are sure to continue. Here are glimpses into what youth sports will look like in the future:
A DIGITAL REVOLUTION
Even two decades ago, team communication involved a phone tree and messages left on answering machines. Want updated standings? You would be lucky to find them taped to the backstop or pinned on a field house bulletin board. The digital age—at first, email and the Internet; lately, smartphones and tablets—fundamentally changed how youth sports operated. Registration could be made online. Schedule changes could be emailed or even texted to parents. Standings could be updated on the Web. This revolution shows no signs of abating. For example, teams able to have their own Internet pages to post pictures, news, snack schedules, and so on.
MORE LEAGUES FOR YOUNGER KIDS
The general decline in free play for children in this country over the past few decades has indirectly resulted in more youth sports leagues. The rise of club-level sports has also fueled more leagues for younger kids who must “get ready” to play competitively. Whether you are for or against the trend toward specializing in one sport, the recreation-level opportunities for children who aren’t even tweens is growing, with no signs of slowing down. Soccer was the first sport to make this leap, but basketball, hockey, swimming, and even lacrosse are booming as well. This influx is great for the kids, but taxing for organizations scrambling to deal with increased participation numbers.
A GREATER AWARENESS OF CONCUSSIONS
Parents are understandably concerned about the effects of concussions, especially with so many high-profile cases of athletes suffering from brain injuries years after they stopped playing. Today’s sports league management solutions can incorporate concussion awareness and training right into their software. For example, as part of the registration process, parents may be required to complete a short concussion informational program that explains symptoms and treatment for the injury so they can recognize if something isn’t right with a child who had his or her bell rung.
INCREASED EMPHASIS ON BACKGROUND CHECKS
The strong focus on ensuring coaches and other volunteers are approved and not coming in with a criminal record will continue into the future, perhaps with even more stringent guidelines as parents become more concerned about who they are trusting their kids to. League management solutions will facilitate this increased emphasis by incorporating background checks into the registration process itself. Coaches sign on the league’s website, they give approval to be researched, the check is performed, and the results are expediently delivered to administrators.
What do you think the future of youth sports holds?