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Kids and sports: When everybody plays, everybody wins

Good news!

Hundreds of people gathered in Washington, D.C., recently to figure out how kids can play more. That’s right: They want kids to have more fun.

According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, a group of more than 750 businesses that make and sell sports equipment, the number of kids ages 6 to 12 playing team sports is dropping. In 2008, 44.5 percent played team sports. By 2013, participation had fallen to about 40 percent.

That probably means those kids are less active in general, and that’s bad.

Studies show that physically active kids score higher on academic tests, are more likely to go to college and are less likely to be overweight, to smoke and to take illegal drugs.

The Aspen Institute, a group that studies lots of problems, brought the professors, athletes and sports executives together. The institute has a new report called “Sport for All, Play for Life: A Playbook to Get Every Kid in the Game.”

The report has lots of great ideas and suggestions. The first is for adults to ask kids what they want from sports.

A 2014 George Washington University study did just that. Researchers asked kids what were the most fun things about playing sports. Kids ranked trying your best, getting playing time and getting along with your teammates among the top five things.

Surprise! Winning ranked 48th out of the 81 items listed. Playing in tournaments ranked even lower: 63rd. That’s why the Aspen Institute report suggests that everyone support more local sports leagues and have fewer travel and tournament teams.

The report also recommends, among other things, that we reintroduce free play. That means more recess and more times when kids, not adults, make up their own games and fun.

Everyone should also try harder to design games and leagues that are appropriate for the ages of the kids playing.

A sports league for kids who are not yet in high school should not be a mini-National Football League or National Basketball Association, with long schedules and pressure-packed games.

The report suggests that before age 12, no kids should be cut from a team, and everyone should get equal playing time.

There are lots of other ideas in the Aspen Institute report. But the big idea is that we — that means kids, parents, coaches and the people who run youth sports leagues — should use kids sports to include more kids and get all kids physically active. Youth sports shouldn’t be only about identifying future superstar athletes.

Read the report at youthreport.projectplay.us.

Fred Bowen, a contributing writer for The Washington Post, is the author of 20 sports books for kids, including “Double Reverse.”


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