How Do We Fund Youth Sports During COVID-19?

By Janet Carter, President & CEO – Coaching Corps

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal addressed the economic impact COVID-19 will have on the youth sports industry, particularly youth sports travel and organized events. These activities are geared toward middle- and upper-income families—those who can afford to pay the steep fees required to participate in organized sports. What about sports for the 60% of kids who rely on free and reduced lunches to avoid going hungry?

Bachman, the author, makes light mention toward the end of the article of kids living in low-income communities, stating that less than 22% of youth living in households making under $25,000 play sports compared to 43% in households making $100,000.

Failing to headline that kids in low-income areas have far less access to sports than their better-off peers undermines the efforts of organizations like ours that are working to remedy this imbalance. Underserved kids must be made the epicenter of the conversation about what makes this pandemic so concerning for youth sports, beyond the economic losses of the industry.

After-school programs such as Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCA and parks and recreation centers that serve kids in poorly-funded neighborhoods have closed their doors because of COVID-19. Many families rely on the sports programs these centers provide to bolster the emotional and social skill-building their kids may not get elsewhere. Without adequate funding to restart these programs once stay-at-home orders lift, they risk closing for good. Where then will these kids access sports?

A number of organizations have signed a petition facilitated by National Council of Youth Sports asking Congress for a $8.5 billion investment in the youth sports industry. The proposal makes a strong case for giving the youth travel industry a strong infusion of capital to get through the pandemic and to help it recover afterward. To be fair, it also mentions kids who cannot afford the fees to play organized sports—those like the kids Coaching Corps serves—but the message must be stronger.

As I shared with Jon Solomon for his article for the Aspen Institute’s Project Play, if we do not explicitly state the need for sports funding dedicated to kids in low-income communities, it is likely these kids will see little of their fair share of the government’s investment.

Sports are good for all kids, no matter their socioeconomic status. But if we want to continue making a difference in the lives of underserved kids, then we have to take the long view when we talk about investing in youth sports. Children living in low-income communities already get the short end of the stick by not having access to the same resources their middle- and upper-income peers do.

We must start funding underserved kids in equal measure so they have a fair shot at becoming their best.


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