Last week the Women's Sports Foundation released its study of the effects of sports and physical activity on children and families, including who is playing (i.e. who has access and "interest"). A downloadable version of the report can be found here--this link also includes a summary of the findings.
There has been a relatively decent amount of media coverage of the report (see here, here, here and here) but I have been somewhat reluctant to talk about it. It could be, perhaps, that I was part of this research in its infancy and so the findings that, for example, girls in urban locales have significantly less access to sports than their male peers and that this is also dependent on race and class, really are not that surprising to me. I also have some hesitations because I question not necessarily the goals of the research--to bring more opportunities to girls--but the reasons behind the goals. In other words, I think we should question a little more the idea that sports and physical activity are inherently great and that more young people should be involved. Certainly the results that show girls of color have less access is a result of the systemic discrimination in our country and thus are important for consideration and addressing.
And the goal of engendering healthy lifestyles should be lauded. But we should also look at the fact that PepsiCo sponsored much of the study...
There's also the common rhetoric of sport producing quality leaders and engendering a sense of fair play. I am not so sure that organized sport is doing those things anymore. The increasingly competitive nature of organized sport--at all levels--seems to be detracting from some of the alleged good sport is said to produce. (This was not a focus of the study but rather something that is frequently unproblematically listed as a benefit of sport participation.)
Something I found quite interesting and worthy of a mention: lack of facilities in urban areas. The study's authors note that this is a reason why there is less participation among children living in urban areas versus suburban locations. There was a specific mention of the differences between say a community like Green Bay and New York City. But there are a lot of sport facilities in NYC--they just serve the needs of professional sports. But they shouldn't be used so exclusively. After all, tax dollars went to build most of these stadiums. And despite how it sometimes feels like pro seasons are interminable, there are such things as off-seasons. And many who live in the communities around such facilities do no benefit from them. They are often priced out of attending and do not see economic benefits from a stadium in their neighborhood. Maybe instead of hosting rock concerts in the off-season, these facilities could be used to actually benefit the communities around them by, say, hosting sports clinics for kids or even regular games and other youth events.
The study overall, though, is important. In part because it was quite comprehensive. Here is a blurb from the WSF article on the results:
The central focus is on how the intersections among families, schools and communities are related to children’s involvement and interest in athletics and physical activity. Some of the personal and social benefits associated with children’s athletic participation are also identified and discussed. The athletic interests and involvements of girls and boys are examined from childhood through late adolescence, including entry into sport as well as drop-out patterns.
Also important was that the study looked at immigrant families and families with children with disabilities. One of the study's authors, sport sociologist and former WSF board member, Don Sabo, has said these to demographics will be the focus of further studies, which is a very good thing. Immigrant families are, of course, often invisible when we discuss family life in America. And though, in some ways, disability and sport has become a more discussed topic we don't actually see a lot of disabled athletes and when we do they are adults.