My commenters have continued to be a great source of insight, and those of you who don’t read comments are often missing out. There was some very interesting discussion in my thread on the decline of boating speculating as to the reasons for this. One of them is that time previously spent on leisure activities like golf and boating are now going to high investment parenting activities such as youth sports.
Interesting, participation in youth sports is also down, and that even includes a sharp drop in youth soccer, as recently detailed by the New York Times:
In general, participation in youth sports nationwide has declined in the past decade, as children gravitate to electronic diversions and other distractions.
Yet in recent years, while soccer continued declining, baseball and basketball experienced upticks, buoyed by developmental programs begun by Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association.
“It’s lost more child participants than any other sport — about 600,000 of them,” said Tom Farrey, executive director of the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program. As he pointed out, that’s enough to fill every stadium on any given match day during the 2026 World Cup, which the United States will host with Mexico and Canada.
The decline has been felt everywhere: recreational leagues in longtime soccer hotbeds here; high-profile traveling teams from Maryland to California; programs targeted at Latino and immigrant populations in South Texas. High burnout rates from pushing children into travel soccer too young as well as the high costs of programs have also contributed to the lower numbers.
The Times is too quick to assign blame to a shift in preferences towards electronic entertainment. I wonder perhaps whether this is yet another example of the hollowing out of the middle in the country.
As my commenters noted, all these camps, travel teams (something I’d never even heard of growing up), etc. take resources and high degrees of parental involvement to pull off, to say nothing of money. Whereas outside the top 20% of the country, the stable two-parent marriage has been in decline. Over a third of the births in the county where I grew up are now out of wedlock, and divorce adds to the mix. Unstable families with fewer financial resources are not as able to keep up in the arms race of resumé buildings, of which youth sports is a part.
I’d like to see someone do a more systematic analysis to see what might be going on.