America’s Public Parks and Rec Programs Are Supporting Team Sports Even During a Pandemic

Photo courtesy of Franklin County (VA) Parks and Recreation.

As the country struggles with restrictions mandated by local authorities due to the COVID-19  pandemic, America’s parks and recreation programs have continued to play an important role in providing opportunities for youth team sports.

A recent Youth Sports at Park and Recreation Agencies report brought this message home and highlighted the role park and recreation agencies have continued to play in ensuring kids have access to team and individual sports. This includes addressing disparities that exist, as it relates to proximity to sports fields and courts, and the ability to afford the cost of participating in sports.

Park and recreation programs are major providers of both organized and unorganized sports facilities across the nation. They also serve all community members, including youth from under-resourced neighborhoods and/or households that cannot afford participation on other sports teams.

The Youth Sports at Park and Recreation Agencies report explores youth sports offerings, partnerships, fees and registration, and equitable access. The report also takes a look at the impact of COVID-19 on youth sports during the summer and fall of 2020.

‍Among the key findings of the report:

  • Five in six park and recreation agencies work with partners to deliver youth sports activities.
  • Ninety-two percent of park and recreation agencies charge registration fees for all of their youth sports offerings, but two in three agencies offer reduced or discounted fees for lower income residents.
  • Ninety percent of park and recreation professionals report that the pandemic negatively impacted their youth sports programming during the summer and fall of 2020, including budget cuts, limits on participants and attendees, and the need to train staff and volunteers on safe distancing practices.
  • Further, five out of six park and recreation agencies work with partners, including private sports associations, school systems and nonprofit organizations, to booster their ability to offer a robust set of sports opportunities for kids.

On the negative side of the report, parks and recreation programs report that they face long-term challenges affecting their ability to ensure access to youth sports activities, including insufficient funding, competing with better-funded private organizations, difficulty in recruiting volunteer coaches, competition with travel sports leagues and, finally, insufficient sports fields and courts.

“Park and recreation professionals are in a unique position to promote increased access to sports, critical to a child’s physical and cognitive development,” said Kevin Roth, NRPA’s VP–research, evaluation and technology. “Unfortunately, the future of youth sports in our country is uncertain, especially given the COVID-19 pandemic and recession. Parks and recreation remain committed to providing low-cost youth sports programs to everyone.”

According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, the percentage of kids ages 6-to-12 participating in organized or unstructured sports at least one day during the year declined from 72.9 percent in 2012 to 71.8 percent in 2019. NRPA is exploring how parks and recreation can address gaps in the provision of youth sports opportunities this includes surveys, member engagement and partnerships. NRPA is collaborating with the Aspen Institute to initiate Project Play resources, including its Teamwork Toolkit for engaging local leaders and developing new opportunities to make sports accessible to all kids.

A copy of the report is available:

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