Giving All Children an Opportunity in Athletics
“…I will play hard, and strive to win, but win or lose, I will always do my best.” I recited this pledge countless times before Little League baseball games without ever giving the words much thought. In retrospect, I now appreciate how the values contained in this mantra, along with many other life lessons learned through sports, dramatically influenced my childhood. Participating in youth sports has played a significant role in shaping the person I am today.
Beyond the adrenaline rush of youth competition are life lessons that are difficult to obtain in any other atmosphere. Prominent among these lessons are the values of teamwork, leadership, sportsmanship, and perseverance. Through the many hardships faced in sports, children quickly learn the necessity of perseverance and witness firsthand how obstacles can be overcome as a team. The thrill of victory develops the competitive spirit, and many children take on their first roles as leaders in the pursuit of wins. Through the highs of victories and the lows of losses, children learn to perform under pressure and to be respectful to others no matter the outcome of the game. One recent example of the benefits of youth sports can be seen in the case of Cliffton Wang. In his Tedx video, Wang recounts his dismal history of athletic failure. However, through determination and perseverance Wang eventually became an All-American wrestler. Wang credits youth athletics for helping him develop characteristics that led to his admission to Harvard University.[i] Unfortunately, such successes and valuable lessons are not available to all.
Most good things come at a cost, and this is particularly true of youth sports. Research indicates that 63% of American families with children participating in youth sports spend between $100 and $499 per child each month for sports related costs.[ii] For families with lower incomes, these expenses can be prohibitive. In fact, data show that children from families with household incomes less than $25,000 have only a 15% participation rate in youth sports.[iii] Many families simply cannot afford the high costs of youth sports, and the children of these families are excluded from the multitude of benefits that participation offers. However, there are ways to mitigate these financial obstacles. Sharing can provide more opportunities for underprivileged children to participate in youth sports.
My home is awash with old sports equipment, and most of my friends’ homes are the same. One friend in particular has over thirty baseball bats piled up in his garage. Many of the bats sold for $300 or more when new. Either he outgrew them or they became a convenient excuse for a hitting slump, but for whatever reason, my friend’s garage has a surplus rivaling a sporting goods store. Most of this equipment will never be used again and could easily be donated to children from low-income families who would happily put it to use. Accounts of wasted sports equipment exist all across America. Max Levitt, a former equipment manager for a college football team, was forced to throw away a whole locker room of expensive equipment to make room for shipments of new equipment.[iv] Many colleges have enormous sports budgets and are constantly being courted by sporting goods manufacturers. The more fortunate are literally flooded with old sports equipment. The children of less fortunate families could use this surplus old equipment, but they have no means of accessing it. This is where collection centers come into play.
Collection centers are places where extra equipment can be donated and distributed to children who need it. These centers have been created and achieved success in the past. One example is a 4,000 square foot warehouse in Silver Spring, Maryland, which stores over one million dollars worth of sports equipment donated by local teams.[v] Typically, these centers gather donated equipment and distribute it amongst applicants based upon their financial needs. These model redistribution efforts should be copied in cities throughout the United States. Sports have become an enormous industry in America and many are fortunate enough to have an abundance of funding and an over-abundance of equipment. This surplus should be shared so that children of all economic backgrounds can enjoy the many benefits of sports participation.
Youth sports are expensive, and many children are precluded from participation by their family’s income. As sports equipment becomes more technologically advanced and sports marketing efforts become more intense, equipment costs will continue to rise. Fortunately, in the wake of all the new sports equipment that continually floods the market, there is an over-abundance of used sports equipment waiting to be put to good use. Efficient means to redistribute this surplus can help bring down economic barriers to sports participation. Something as simple as sharing can change the landscape of youth sports and give all children the opportunity to enjoy the many benefits of youth sports participation.