Empty Baseball Field

Last week, The Wall Street Journal published a story on the decline of organized youth sports that used as its narrative focus a struggling Little League system in the town of Newburgh, New York.

Newburgh, a city of some 28,000 people up the Hudson River from New York City, managed to produce only 74 kids to play in its entire little league system. It was a precipitous decline from more than 200 children in 2009.

The story raises the question of nationwide figures that show participation in youth sports leagues has declined a great deal since 2000. Soccer, Basketball and baseball have all seen millions of children drop out by the millions. Baseball saw its participation numbers drop from 8.8 million in 2000 to 5.3 million in 2013. (Interestingly, tackle football has seen a slight uptick in participation despite the many, many stories about the dangers of concussions.)

In the Wall Street Journal piece, many interviewed suggest what they think the cause of the decline might be. The writer ventures this theory:

A pervasive emphasis on performance over mere fun and exercise has driven many children to focus exclusively on one sport from an early age, making it harder for all sports to attract casual participants.

But is that the case? Has a rise of competition driven competitive kids into specialized leagues and teams (not unlike the Taney Dragons of South Philadelphia that drew a group of very talented kids together from across the city)? Has score keeping driven casual players away from sports? Or are there just more distractions? There are certainly more programs for kids, including arts and computer programming.

Participation in Northwest Philadelphia appears to be quite a bit more healthy. The Chestnut Hill Youth Sports Club has some 1,300 children in its programs, which include soccer, lacrosse and baseball. We’ve sent emails to CHYSC organizers to ask abut specifics and plan on looking into the issue further.

We’d love to know what you think. What has your experience been with youth organized spots? Let us know in comments below.