February 6, 2019

Huddle Up: A Message from Bridget Niland, Winter 2019

As 2019 moves into full swing, all of us at Project Play WNY are excited for what we will be launching and how it will serve as a reset on youth sports in our region.

By August, there will be both a local and national movement to counterbalance and bring attention to the opportunities to improve 21st century youth sports.

The investment in youth sports has tripled in the past 20 years and now sits at just under $15 billion. Don’t let the numbers fool you though‑ more money pumping into the sector has NOT resulted in healthier, more active kids. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Only 16 percent of youth in WNY engage in one hour of physical activity per day. This leaves all of us at Project Play WNY asking what has happened to the other 84 percent, and how do we get them back into sport?

At Project Play WNY, we have spent the last 18 months engaging with over 150 individuals and 120 different organizations to help us answer this question. So far, we are finding that the kids that make up that 84 percent have been either priced out or pushed out of a youth sports sector that has become both incredibly expensive and hyper-competitive.

How has this happened?

– Many people we spoke with indicated that with the best of intentions, parents often spare no expense on their children’s youth sports, and the market has responded by driving up costs of even the simplest of sports.

– Well-meaning but often untrained coaches introduce too much too fast through these single sport, competitive based models and kids get pushed out in the process.

– Parents feel pressure to sign their kids up for travel teams to keep them competitive with their peers, and kids can feel stuck in and overcommitted to sports they may no longer enjoy or ones they would prefer to scale back on and focus on recreationally.

Program options for those families who cannot foot the bill or devote the time to travel teams are dwindling, along with low-key, more developmentally-based multi-sport environments. The games of youth sports have fallen on a have or have not fault line that is based on money, skill or will.

What can be done to address the lack of equity in WNY youth sports? This is a question that Project Play WNY hopes to answer in the year ahead.

We will be holding another State of Play WNY roundtable event on March 23, followed by sports sampling and free play events. We will also be asking the many youth sport organizations in the region to look back at our State of Play WNY report from 2017 and consider how they can contribute to a re-inspired youth sport model.

At Project Play WNY, we recognize that many who are priced out or pushed out of today’s youth sports want something different.  We look at 2019 as our chance to work with kids, parents, coaches and teachers to offer a more inclusive path. We are focused on getting those 84 percent of WNY kids BACK in the game!