Good-bye soccer moms? (and dads)

Or U.S.A. fact of the day:

Over the past three years, the percentage of 6- to 12-year-olds playing soccer regularly has dropped nearly 14 percent, to 2.3 million players, according to a study by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, which has analyzed youth athletic trends for 40 years. The number of children who touched a soccer ball even once during the year, in organized play or otherwise, also has fallen significantly.

…In general, participation in youth sports nationwide has declined in the past decade, as children gravitate to electronic diversions and other distractions…

“It’s lost more child participants than any other sport — about 600,000 of them,” said Tom Farrey, executive director of the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program.

That is from Joe Drape at the NYT.


Average is over, clearly.

Or, to put it differently, the average American child seems to be parented by adults who simply cannot stop the overwhelming tide of what is now called Tek - oops, no, that was a series of novels penned by William Shatner (or Goulart - who likely added the adjectives and adverbs, along with the nouns, articles, and verbs).

How much tech did kids have in 1955? How many played soccer in organized leagues? Other things are going on.

All that punctuation must have been painfully tedious for poor Bill Shatner.

actually, shatner is a pretty good writer. to be fair - shatner, while an amusing writer, is a step or two or three down from faulkner, and faulkner is in turn a step down from joyce or proust, and joyce or proust are a step down from shakespeare, and shakespeare is a step down from one or two others, but nevertheless ...

shatner did a pretty good job as alyosha in the 1950s Hollywood version of the Brothers Karamazov, and more than 60 years later he has an entertaining twitter persona. that is kind of interesting, and that is not something a lot of people have achieved ....

sure we all want more out of life than that but let's not deprecate someone who achieved that much, after all the differences between all our achievements are fairly trivial, compared to the difference between actually caring about other people and not (caring).

Nobody cares about any sport unless they grew up thinking they would one day be great at that sport.

Hence soccer is not a big deal in the USA, but no other sport is a big deal anymore, it is all at niche popularity, and that is a good thing and something other countries, with their desperate "passions" for their preferred "sports" undoubtedly envy.

By the way, if you read pulp novels in the Star Trek universe, you will often find really good paragraphs, and you will often find really good pages - sometimes two in a row, sometimes three in a row - of dialogue that sounds like something that some human, somewhere, might actually have said.

Literature is almost infinite, though, and the Star Trek universe is almost imperceptibly small in the entire universe of interesting novels and ideas and recreations, and remember this: a young person who is gifted at painting or singing or playing on an instrument or at designing one of those buildings that makes everybody's heart sigh against the morning sky or afternoon sky in some village or city with architecture that we all know and love ...

such a young person will never, never ever ever, as Taylor Swift liked to say, understand what it is to be the ordinary, human, unremarkable person that a young person who one day will be a good writer once was. The artists, the musicians, the little scientists, all were full of hope and joy at their gift, and were all unaware of what it is to be a simple unremarkable young person.

Anyway, a paragraph here, a paragraph there, and the realization, after decades, that is it not a common lot to have made so many people laugh or just feel happy to understand the world a little better - that is no small compensation for a bad singing voice, a second-rate gift in the actor's art, and a total lack of architectural commissions.

that was maybe my longest comment ever without a citation to a Bible verse ... so, from J Vernon McGee ...

"To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted of his beloved" (Ephesians, chapter one, verse six ... "Since all is for the glory of God, Paul sings this glorious doxology, this glorious hymn of praise. All is done on the basis of His grace and the end is the glory of God. The inception is grace; the conception is adoption; the rest is for his glory." ---new paragraph --- "All of this is for your good and my good .... It is so much more valuable than a lot of the chitchat that I hear today that goes under the name of religion."

That being said, poor Pastor McGee was, after all, not aware that, not long before he was born, Ephesians 1:6 was the favorite Bible verse of St Elizabeth of the Trinity, and that it is possible to do what she did - perform miracles of grace, even today. Well, God loves us all, anyway, so there's that, and it is the work of a moment to realize what that means.

Seeing a different trend in youth hockey. Enrollment is up for 6-10 year-olds, then fairly stagnant. But USA Hockey and the NHL have done quite a bit to subsidize youth participation so that income is less of a barrier to participation. It would be interesting to look at the increased emphasis on early specialization (which is destroying youth athletes imo) and trends in overall organized youth recreation participation.

I'd be interested in how those subsidies work. Has the cost for ice time come down? Equipment? Growing up in Detroit, ice hockey was far and away the most expensive sport to play but I guess thing's have changed.

It's only the introduction to the sport that is subsidized. There is probably a "Try Hockey For Free" day in your area, where your (young) child can get some cheap, soft free pads and skate around a rink for an hour. And a lot of youth hockey organizations will offer a 10-week initiation program where you can use hand-me-down gear from others, and learn the basics for $200 or so. USAH inflates their participation rates by counting the kids in these free/cheap intro programs.

Ice costs have decidedly NOT fallen, although you can get lower-end pads for less than ever. It'll cost you four figures to play for real. The reason it costs that much is because it's typically an eight-month season. Which is the real barrier to entry.

I’m seeing what you’re seeing. Both trends dovetail, unfortunately. Subsidization of termite/mite level hockey, lots of interest, preferred ice time. And then, by the end of squirt level, the kids are basically one-sport athletes. My oldest is the only member of his “elite” team (WTF is that, he’s barely 10) who’s not spending the summer on his skates. So yes - high burnout risk and maybe not that much fun for the kids? And then it gets expensive and very time consuming. The parents who stick it out get crazier every year.

All that said, it sure beats the Fortnite and Doritos team that most of his friends play on.

In addition to time consuming - also expensive. If the declining participation trends are pervasive I wonder if there's a push back on spending so much on youth sports both in time and money? A few years ago a friend was travelling out of state regularly just for one of his son's soccer leagues. (Not to mention additional pay for professional coaching).

Hockey participation has been falling steadily for about five years, and it's not stopping. I know USA Hockey put out that article about 6-10 year olds. And the Boston Bruins give away four hours of ice every year with free, full sets of equipment to groups of 50 kids (and there are over a dozen groups).

But it just doesn't translate to much. Sure, the youngest kids are trying it out when everything is free, and that's awesome, but there is no resulting surge in squirts and peewees. At least not in town hockey. The club teams have been taking over for awhile, and their victory is nearly complete. To the benefit of no one, except them.

Soccer, like tattoos, piercings, bar fights and the inability to express oneself, is an advertisement and glorification of one’s own barbarity and wilful rejection of civilization. Any decline in the proportion of a country’s population that is involved in soccer is good.

No, it is not. Football is the sport of the gentlemen, the cultured, the wise, the philanthrope. It is the heart of a heartless world.

Thiago, old chum, I fear you have fallen into a fatal ambiguity when you say "Football is the sport of the gentlemen, etc." The ambiguity is that there are several types of football, the most common being Association and Rugby (others include the Eton Wall and Field games, but we can ignore those for present purposes.) Soccer, or Association Football, is well known to be a game designed for gentlemen but actually played by ruffians, whereas Rugby is a game designed for ruffians but actually played by gentlemen. The wise, the cultured, the philanthrope to whom you refer play Rugby football, not Association football. The behaviour of the crowds associated with each proves this.

The only real football is football because one plays it with one's foot. There is no reason to call football a sport one plays with one's hands!!!! It is anti-natural. A ball game must be played with feet? Aren't we men

My dear Thiago! If you insist on being so literal in your philology you are bound to be cast, like a pelican, into the wilderness and probably into utter confusion. The New Forest is not particularly new, nor is New College, Oxford, the latter being among the oldest colleges. The word “cynic” used to mean seeing things for what they really are, and now means something else, or so a classicist friend tells me. Moreover, Rugby football is played with the hands and feet, as is Association, in the the goalkeeper uses their hands.

It is a matter of principle and character! I would rather die as Brazil's soldiers died at the Dourados Siege in 1864 than play ball with my hands. Are we not men?

Touché! I cannot argue with that!

"it is a sign of a dull nature to occupy oneself deeply in matters
that concern the body: for instance to be overmuch occupied
about exercise..."

Football is not about the body, it is about the soul.
"Which of us does not admire what Lycurgus the Spartan did?" - Epictetus

Lycurgus prepared the Spartans for war. Football is war by other means.

"football is not about the body..."
T. Ribeiro

try telling that to Earl Campbell's knees
also try Earl Campbell's bbq sauce

I'm not sure what foot-ball was in the 14th century, but it wasn't for servants.

"(1388) The Statute of Richard II restricts laborers to their hundred and makes it compulsory for them to follow the same trade as their father after the age of twelve. The wages of both industrial and agricultural laborers are again fixed — .... Servants are permitted to carry bows and arrows, but not swords, and they may not play tennis or foot-ball. "

--Popular Law-making: A Study of the Origin, History, and Present Tendencies of Law-making by Statute, Frederic Jesup Stimson (1910)


But are you talking about rugby or American Football? I was not aware that Amrican Football is played by gentlemen (now, not 90 years ago)

And if you are talking about rugby mare you talking about Rugby Union ot Rugby League... different things. There is an abysmal difference between the game played by the London Irish and the Leeds Rhinos.

Rucas, please forgive my carelessness, I was intending to refer to Association football and to all species of Rugby football as the focus of my posting, while acknowledging minor species such as speciality variants played at Eton, Harrow, Winchester and much more recently in the Americas and Australia. I have not had the pleasure of watching the Leeds Rhinos, but I have watched some League, and in my younger days was in a team soundly beaten by the L. Irish.

OK, no sweat!

If football is the sport of gentlemen, the cultured, the wise, that explains why Brazil is so shite at it. Leading scientists have proven that they will never win another World Cup

Oh, and leading scientists are very good at making predictions about human affairs, right?

Edit: Specially predictions that are free of charge when scientists get them wrong.

Alternative activities may be part of the explanation, but I will suggest that parents are the main cause. How so? By converting youth sports into a highly competitive platform for future sports stars and taking the fun out of it for most children. Sure, there were a few obnoxious and overbearing parents when I was a child in youth sports many, many decades ago, but today they are the rule not the exception. Youth sports have gone from seasonal pastimes (baseball in the summer, football and soccer in the fall, etc.) to year-round, highly competitive, obsessions. Not unlike the quest for admission into the very best schools.

Speaking of things we don't understand, how about $10 books selling on Amazon for thousands. Of course, the tax cut and the books have something in common: suckers.

Misplaced comment. But here is the link to an article in The Atlantic that is right on point:

You are so right. The thing about soccer in the US is that it is not organic.

And the fact that it became a middle class sport only makes it worse. Kids have to have fun while playing it the same way they have while playing in the baseball and basketball and even football.

As a Portuguese, I find it funny that 10 or 11 year old kids play in full kit in official size parks... I mean, when I was a kid I would play anywhere:in the streets after school with a common t-shirt... just like kids in the US do with baseball, basketball and even football.

Soccer in the US must stop being a "rich-kid" sport and start being a "every-kid" sport like in Europe. It must be played in the streets... because it in the street that great talents are born: Messi, CRistiano Ronaldo, Ronaldo Fenomeno, Iniesta, Zlatan... you name it!

Americans seem to have a fascination for sports requiring specialized and often expensive equipment, especially helmets with face masks and pads. The numbers of rules per sport is proportional to the amount of equipment. A game requiring only a ball lacks structure and a comforting guidance.

Right, that's why basketball is so unpopular in America.

The outlier sport since: It is an indoor winter sport, and, It is predominantly an Afro-American who are poorer and urban.

Patently false, I grew up in a pretty white suburb and pickup basketball was definitely a thing. Bonus points for not including 'Afro-Americans' as Americans.

Noticed you keyed on the Afro and not the American. Guess that's part of growing up in a pretty white suburb. Also, why do the two primary sports in the U.S. have "knickers" for uniforms?

Um, I'm not the one declaring basketball an 'outlier sport' because the wrong color Americans also like to play. You got caught, own it and move on.

First, the Sports & Fitness Industry Association is a trade group, so while the data might be fairly accurate, there is a certain amount of spin here. I seriously question that line about the number of children not touching a soccer ball dropping significantly.
That said, a couple of factors need to be taken into account.
One is the continuing impact of strained municipal budgets, which mean fewer and more expensive recreation offerings. That explains some of the decline for sports participation overall.
Another is the growing awareness of sports concussions. Both forms of football have high rates. That's why my kids didn't play soccer.

We also need to look at how many coaches are available. Everything I've seen states that there's a real lack of coaches available for youth sports. This is due to a large number of factors, including the need for multiple incomes in many households and the behavior of parents at games.

That is definitely the problem in my area. When I was a youth there was an abundance of coaches and most of them had jobs with very fixed hours so that reasonable practice and game times could be accommodated. There are far fewer people with that sort of dependable schedule now. Also, if the spouse works, they may have other duties at home to attend to even if they have said dependable schedule.

I was curious about that "touch" line and I think it's the journalists description of a survey that distinguishes between kids who play a sport 1-25 times per year and those who play 26 or more times a year. (For some sports like hockey, the cutoff is 13 times per year)

Still a lot of room for how the respondent interprets the survey questions, but that sounds like the casual players are probably on a team in a rec league, or play just in the Fall or Spring, while the "core" players are on a competitive/traveling team.

Six- to twelve-year-olds' math and science scores undoubtedly are rocketing beyond the stratosphere with double-digit gains, which is exactly the consequence and outcome to expect from all the kids' nifty-keen exposure to high tech gaming and social media exposure alone, correct?

Ok, the Nintendo salesperson fooled you, but it is time to let the bitterness go.

Concern about brain injuries from heading the ball. I'm not sure the science is good on this, but there is spill over from highly publicized (American) football concussions and related disorders.

I'm pretty sure concussions in soccer are mainly a result of heading other heads, not heading the ball.

No, Howard is correct. Heading the ball over a long career can result in CTE. However, I would guess that the media coverage of brain injuries probably results in more soccer players. Parents yank their kids out of American football and maybe some of them end up playing more soccer, where the chances of brain trauma are smaller.

If not organized, youth soccer, what are they doing for physical development/fitness?

When I was a boy (Custer was a corporal) we did not play soccer.

In the 1990's and 2000's my village, we had an active youth soccer league. My sons played (plus youth basketball and little league baseball) until jr. high when they played school football, lacrosse, track - shot put, discus. The two younger ones played rugby in university. That is a much better game than football or soccer. Lacrosse is also preferable.

Also, when I was young (under ten years old in the Bronx) kids could go outside (I would walk across the High Bridge to Manhattan) and play (unorganized baseball, basketball and football - no helmet tackle, sometimes an older brother or father would teach us) without worrying about some nut-job kidnapping, killing, or raping.

Plus, we never wore helmets riding bicycles nor seat belts riding in cars. Our Moms sent us to the corner store for bread and milk. Amazingly, a few of us survived to reproduce.

Clearly survivorship bias. Duh.

+1 on lacrosse, that's the best game for kids IMO. And it's been taking off dramatically in the US especially on the west coast, good replacement for (American) football.

Would be interesting to see numbers for other sports though based on casual observation of my son and his peers participation in football and baseball seem to have declined as well.

I signed up to receive MR posts by email. Does anyone know if it’s possible to receive one email a day with all of the day’s posts instead of an email each time a post is made?

Please make sure Tyler takes his Ritalin

Based on my experience with a local youth soccer league, even for young children there is an 'only the strongest survive' element to participating in the game. I was at one game during the spring where a young girl (about 7 years old) was nudging kids aside with her elbow to get the ball just like a player at the professional level. I commented out loud asking the ref if this was the WWE.

I know someone who drives his son around about two hours each way to a soccer game destination each weekend during soccer season. His son is very good and it's a great way for an adolescent to spend time with a parent, but it's not the commitment I want to be making (especially with other household commitments).

If your child (like most children) isn't an ace he/she will increasingly just act as a prop for the really good players. Participating becomes a lot of hassle and not much fun.

This article reminds me of an article from about two years ago documenting the steep decline in paintball popularity. The ratio of jerks increases as a share of players and the other players drop out.

Running in local 5k races is a great activity for a family to participate in. Even a young school-aged child can run in them, there is no formal commitment, you get to see the local area, and it's great exercise.

Rather than commenting out loud to the ref, you should have just told your daughter to do the same thing. Kids learn best by emulating other good players.

The ref didn't hear me. I just shouted it from the sidelines.

As a parent, I'm more interested in finding a good general activity for my child. Focusing more on the cunning of an activity might not be for us and I don't have the time or interest in educating my daughter to be maximally competitive that way. Your advice is more on the 'letter of the law' side of the spectrum which follows my original comment about the article documenting the decline of paintball participation.

All sports rates will go down. There were more people born in America in 2007. Then the recession. Birth rates are still not even close to 2007 now. Expect stories like these for the next decade.

In most countries other than tge US any random group of boys will quickly organize a scratch game of soccer, at my sons school for instance they play soccer before they open, during breaks and after school before the bus or parents pick then up. What is the equivalent in the US?

Nothing. US parents live in more or less gated communities and make sure their kids don't mix with others they have not pre-approved.

When I've been to the playground with the kids (we live too far from anyone for more spontaneous meetups to occur) games such as tag, hide-and-seek, races, and the like were the common ones kids played. In part, it's because these require little equipment. In part, though, it's because soccer and other sports have become chores. We have turned youth sports into hyper-competitive events were victory is the only acceptable outcome, and push kids to practice continuously, leaving them very little free time (once school and the hours of homework every night are factored in). What kid in their right mind would want to spend their precious hours of unstructured time doing something that's the equivalent of washing dishes or mowing the yard?

Pickup basketball games primarily. In the old days it was baseball, and there's probably still suburbs where kids meet up and play versions of that too.

We used to play football (american football) in an empty lot my neighborhood. At school, basketball was always preferred (it was the most popular sport where I grew up by far).

I don't see anything engaging the number of urchins we used to have out on the suburban street in the 70s, the various ages and both genders - even worthless little kids kinda counted as you wanted lots of people, maybe you would even lower yourself to knocking on their door if you didn't have enough people; and then there were a couple sickly, namby-pamby kids you'd ask only in hopes it would win you the right to play on their big empty lawn. Rule-based games were popular, but not the ones adults play: capture the flag; croquet was the rage for awhile; tin can alley; "two-below" (gallant concession to girls, perhaps); a loose form of baseball, modified to the street, and kickball; as often, with baseball gloves, we played hours of "hotbox." Hide and seek, of course, becoming ghost in the graveyard or sardines (a truly scary game) at night. Varieties of tag - freeze, TV. Red Light Green Light and Simon Says. With a basketball, "foursquare," which led to fights. Not basketball proper, maybe because we weren't good at it, too many girls: Around the World. Foot races. A fun game we invented involving pegging, "Bombs Away," on our bikes. (All games with balls were established "with pegging" or not. Pegging was paramount in a game called Spud.) It was customary to watch the stop sign and sing out "Turning!" when a car appeared so that street games could continue without too much interference from cars. At some point, naturally, pegging those cars seemed logical.

No one wore shoes. All moms were home and yet we weren't really all that welcome (filthy feet?) in each other's houses. :-)

I gave my son more, in some ways, but was not able to give him this. Didn't seem to exist anymore.

Communauties and states will likely have to subsidize youth sports more and more. Like in Europe.

There is some subsidizing of sports in Europe but not that much.

The thing about soccer in the US is that it became a rich kid sport. And that is never good for producing high performers.

Let's think about it: a sports career is allways high risk (in any sport) . So imagine a well-off kid: his/her alternative is becoming a lawyer or a doctor (much less riskier careers) so why would they put the effort to become top sportsman? This well off kid will keep on playing the game for fun,

High performers in any sport come from poorer backgrounds, Why? Because their alternative is becoming a super market cashier... or worse. So they grab with both hands the opportunity of being a top performers... and top performers they become. That's the story of C.Ronaldo, Messi, Lebron, Michael Jordan.... you name it! Those guys have the skills, the athleticism, and the drive... but mainly they are running away from a life of poverty,

Soccer became a rich kid sport, but those rich kids found it annoying to lose to teams of poor Latim Americans and African immigrants.

So they're moving to sports with higher costs of entry like lacrosse.

The report is specifically on 'outdoor' soccer.

A different report from SFIA finds 'indoor' soccer to be one of the top gainers in participation. Maybe soccer moms (and dads) don't like weather cancellations. Or, other trends -- like growth in popularity of futsal (court based soccer) -- are contributing to the decline in outdoor.

("The number of children who touched a soccer ball even once during the year...")

wow -- they can measure the actual # of kids who even touched a soccer ball all year. Impressive data collection capability.

What I think is going on here is exhaustion/burnout of kids and parents. You can't seem to casually do anything anymore. Sign your 8-year-old kid up for soccer and it dominates your life. That's not good for anyone.

I used to wonder about the families who all had to turn up full strength at eight in the morning - on Saturday - to watch little kids drift up and down the field across from my house. The siblings at least seemed to enjoy their free time on the adjacent playground. I imagine if asked, though, most of the parents would have said they liked the early time so as to "get it over with" for the day ...

Peak soccer has definitely passed at that particular field, though more people than ever pretend to be into World Cup.

My guess is that participation spikes the year after a world cup, hence there's a measured decline between 2015 and 2018. I'd like to see the 4 year moving average.

SportEngland (gov agency so allow for bias) found that from 2010/11 to 2015/16 no sport saw a fall in 11-15 year old participation. Whether this is the same now we are further on from the London Olympics will be interesting.

Most fads eventually fade in the US and elsewhere. Soccer has probably seen its peak in popularity in the United States- it really is that simple.

The "percentage" playing soccer dropped nearly 14 percent, to 2.3 million players? What percentage of journalism students practice writing?

One thing I have never understood is why wehn so many kids play soccer at a young age , it almost dies down in middle school and high school.

There is no mass television viewership of soccer in the US- by the time the children are past age 10, the see far of the major US sports on television. Only ESPN carries soccer on a regular basis and to a non-miniscule audience, but even those programs are low-rated compared to a Yankee's game.

There are new team sports that might not be counted. My 9 year old is on a "rock climbing team," which is non-competitive, and a go-kart team, which is only internally competitive.

Working parents don't have time for the travel to games, or even to go see their child play in them.

I'm actually relieved because I honestly have no chance of being a good soccer mom. Times are changing indeed. Perhaps a different approach is needed. It just amazes me how well basketball remains to be popular.

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