The report examines many aspects of youth sports -- why kids like certain
sports, what barriers exist and what are community and sports organizers doing to create new opportunities. Many of the issues are familiar to those working in soccer:
-- Lack of free-play, opportunities for children to play on their own;
-- Decline of in-town youth sports leagues (the traditional Little League baseball concept);
-- Lack of nearby sports facilities for children to play at;
-- Low participation rates among children from low-income families; and
-- Lack of properly trained coaches.
Others are issues familiar to all parents -- most notably, the heavy use by children of smartphones and tablets.
Soccer comes up frequently throughout the report. A few developments that were highlighted:
-- U.S. Soccer's decision to alter birth-year registration;
-- U.S. Soccer Foundation's work in building mini-pitches (futsal courts);
-- Continued move of European clubs into the U.S. youth soccer market; and
-- The Urban Soccer Leadership Academy's work in San Antonio to create soccer programs for underserved kids.
The Aspen Institute piggy-backed on the work of others in the field and some of the findings are troubling:
-- The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation surveyed 22 counties in Western New York and Southeast Michigan and found one in 20 kids play soccer near their home (vs. two in three for bicycling, the most popular activity).
-- In a Sports & Fitness Industry Association study on the training of coaches, soccer finished last in four of six training categories and no higher than seventh in any.
-- So many of the challenges soccer faces relate to the fact it came along long after the major sports became entrenched, not just securing the support of fans at the professional and college level but gaining control of the prime sites for athletic facilities.
-- Not having parents educated in the game is one of the big factors for the shortage of properly trained coaches -- and the rise of an army of paid coaches that is a big factor is soccer's high cost of participation.