Youth Soccer

The numbers don't lie: In the United States and Canada, participation in youth sports is on the decline. At a time when childhood obesity is one of the top health concerns for North American kids, participation in youth sports is dropping virtually across the board.

The trend is affecting almost every major youth sport. It would be easy to paint the trend as a product of laziness and poor health habits. But experts suggest the opposite is true: Parents see the increased specialization and competition taking place in youth sports, overtaking the values of good sportsmanship, teamwork and fun.

And rather than subject their kids to those high-pressure influences, parents are opting to pull their kids out of those sports.

That's the suggestion from research by True Sport Foundation, anyway, which examined the changing trends surrounding youth sports and uncovered a few different factors. The study focused on communities in Canada and found those populations torn on the issue of youth sports.

While 85 percent of Canadians feel that sports builds stronger communities, those populations are nonetheless moving away from today's version of the activities.

The selectivity and intensity of youth sports has given life to another unique problem: The issue of time. As sports seasons grow more intense, they also grow longer, extended by offseason workouts, year-round conditioning and other time-sucks like spring football.

And that extra time is coming at a cost. Select and traveling teams are demanding more and more dollars from families, and that doesn't include the cost of private coaches and lessons.

Concrete numbers on reduced youth participation are hard to come by, but experts see the trends cropping up throughout American and Canadian communities. If specialization continues to be emphasized, it may force out certain youth players who are just there to learn the game and have fun.

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