Social Class and Opportunities for Physical Activity


Participating in sport and physical activity has long been important to me. From youth basketball at the YMCA, to club rugby in college, and everything in between, sport has provided opportunities for physical, psychological, and social growth and development. 

And, I am not alone. Researchers have long documented that, although there are certainly shortcomings, sport participation offers a host of benefits for athletes and communities. 

Despite these advantages, sport is an activity available to fewer and fewer people, or so suggests a recent report from the Aspen Institute’s Project Play.

The authors collected data from a variety of sources to examine the impact of individual differences on opportunities. Their findings were telling. 

First, family income has a meaningful impact on participation. Only 22 percent of kids from poor families regularly participate in sport. That is about half of the 43 percent of children from rich families. 

Why do these disparities exist? There are a number of reasons, but one of the chief ones is the cost of sport today. On average, families spend $693 per child for one sport each year. 

Sadly, despite these expenditures, the average youth spends less than 3 years playing sport, quitting by age 11 due to lack of enjoyment. According to parents, the biggest source of pressure comes from the coaches. 

The report also highlighted how ill-equipped coaches are. Within the past three years, fewer than one-in-five have had training in CPR, first aid, concussion management, injury prevention, conditioning, sport skills, or motivation. 

Luckily, Project Play identified strategies for change. These include asking kids what they want, re-introducing free play, encouraging kids to play different sports, and training all coaches, among others.