Access to sport should be a universal right for kids, but unfortunately, even school sports have issues with access that are dependent on socioeconomic status. From away games and high gear costs to simple access to practice areas in urban environments, there are a lot of hidden ways that sport becomes inaccessible to many aspiring athletes. And unfortunately, all too often, this goes unnoticed by school athletic organizations, which are often struggling with budgeting issues of their own.
Here, Natalie Hummel, founder of Every Kid Sports, is helping explain the nuances of access to sport and sharing a few ways that families and coaches can be more aware and responsive.
Understand the importance of sports
We know that sport isn't just about winning or bringing home a trophy at the end of the season: Sport can be a way for young athletes to make friends, grow leadership skills, and develop healthy habits that can last a lifetime. When you look at sport through this lens, it's easy to understand just how important it is that every child has the opportunity to play—and how little it should cost them to do so. "Playing sports was the most important thing I did as a kid," says Hummel. "It shaped who I am today, and when I learned that most kids weren't playing sports simply because they couldn't afford it, I knew that was something I needed to address." That's why she founded Every Kid Sports.
Cost of sport is on the rise
"There is a broken narrative around sports that says to play, you need to pay," explains Hummel. "When I was growing up, sports were prevalent everywhere and the access was incredible. You could play sports at school for free. Now, the majority of schools around the country are actually pay-to-play." Only 22 percent of kids who come from income-restricted families are playing sports, and a large part of that is due to the associated costs. Hummel points out that the average cost for a recreational season in a sport is $138. "If you're talking about a family that can hardly put food on the table, they're not going to be able to spend that money to get their child playing," she notes.
Access issues start young
Even if a high school offers free access to sports, there are marginalized communities who will already be left behind, says Hummel. "If someone hasn't played recreational sports growing up, they're going to have a hard time making a high school team if the try-outs are against students who've been playing in recreational clubs from a young age," she adds. "To play basketball or volleyball in high school, it's expected that athletes already have the physical literacy and a basic competence. One of the things we've seen is the over-commercialization of youth sports, with the addition of these travel teams and elite teams from a young age. The people who have the money put their kids in those programs, and that just further erodes the youth sports marketplace.