As the economy fluctuates, budgets follow–and school budgets are tight, especially in low-income areas. Unfortunately, tight budgets mean budget cuts, and usually, the first thing to hit the chopping board is athletics. Some public schools are cutting individual teams, but others are eliminating athletic programs entirely.
As a result, families are often forced to find and pay for private clubs, which belabor the cost of coaching, equipment, travel, and tournament expenses, among other things, onto parents. When everything is accounted for, private sports teams can become a burden to household financials, and once again, become the first thing to hit the chopping board.
Taking into account both public and private sports programs, The Aspen Institute’s 2019 State of Play report found that U.S. families spend an average of $693 per child per year to play one sport. While some sports, like track and field, fall well under that threshold ($191), sports like ice hockey and skiing often cost over $2,000 per year. As a result, kids from lower-income households are less likely to participate, as the report noted that only 22% of kids from households with an annual income below $25,000 played organized sports, whereas 43% of kids from families with annual incomes above $100,000 did.
While both boys and girls, and men and women, experience the negative effects of a reduction in athletic opportunities, women are disproportionately impacted. The Women’s Sports Foundation found that boys receive 1.13 million more high school athletic opportunities than girls each year. This inequity quickly trickles into the number of NCAA and professional athletic opportunities there are in place for women as compared to men.
As a result, women, more often than their male counterparts, are stripped of the long-term benefits of participation, which can include improvements in health, confidence, self-image, and familial relationships. Taking part in sports can also be connected to higher levels of academic success and aspirations for college and beyond, as cited by The Women’s Sports Foundation.
In order to change this narrative moving forward, educate yourself, your peers, and your school administrators on the importance of sport. Encourage young girls to play, help create spaces where boys and girls can compete together, and most importantly, make sports fun–we need to keep kids in the game.
Affluent families and school districts are able to adhere to fluctuating costs, but in many cases, low-income households and schools are forced to eliminate athletics. When we take away sports, confidence, positive self-image, and other benefits of participation, are often compromised as a result.
The advantages and opportunities sports provide men and women are not trivial–they are arguably some of the most important experiences an individual can carry with them throughout their life, and we must work to preserve the foundation we have built so that it can continue to grow.
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