Data shows youth participation in some Hoosier sports is declining

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Data from several organizations has found that fewer and fewer kids are playing organized sports.

The Sports and Fitness Industry Association did a study and found the amount of kids between six and twelve years old that play sports is dwindling nationwide. In 2008, data showed 45 percent of kids played sports. In 2018, that number declined to 38 percent.

The National Federation of State High School Association shows that some high school sports are struggling as well. Football participation has dropped more than nine percent since 2008.

CBS4 looked at Indiana’s numbers and found football is down 6.6 percent since 2008. Wrestling declined 14 percent. Hoosier basketball saw the biggest drop, with a 24 percent slide in the last 13 years.

“It doesn’t surprise me that parents are finally saying, ‘Alright we need to hold back a little bit,’” Grant and Renee McDougal agreed. “I am not surprised at all that parents are saying, ‘Nope, we’re not going to let our kids do this.’”

CBS4 talked to one family that lives in Carmel. Their daughters play sports, but the boys do not. Caleb McDougal White made that decision for himself.

“The time commitment was a lot for them, and they stopped wanting to go,” Renee explained. “And we’re okay with that.”

Caleb said it was difficult to juggle his schoolwork, friends and family life on top of playing soccer.

“Practice was two times a week. There were one to two games a weekend,” Renee said.

“Our weekends were pretty much gone for the entire family,” Grant added. “We were rushing, getting done late and having quick dinners.”

“And they were missing out on friends,” Renee said.

Caleb isn’t the only kid to say, “time out.” Parents commented on Facebook, citing the time commitment, cost and competitiveness as a reason they either do not allow their kids to play or choose to enjoy other activities.

Kathy Shreve, for example, said her kids foster other types of interests like robotics and chess club.

“We are selective in what we sign up for,” she posted.

Westfield High School head football coach Jake Gilbert also weighed in. He used to be the president of the Indiana Football Coaches Association. He thinks an increased concern about concussions and other injuries may be partially to blame as well.

“And it’s a concern we have to be open and honest about,��� he said. “It’s absolutely a possibility.”

Gilbert wasn’t surprised to see the dwindling participation numbers, but he was somewhat concerned.

“We better take it serious, and we better get to the bottom of why,” he said.

Gilbert said while concussions and other injuries are possible in contact sports, some parents might be misinformed.

“I think we continue to battle reality versus perception issue with football. There’s what people see on the TV with the NFL, and then there is the experience what a lot of parents and fathers had when they were involved in football, versus today where we almost never tackle to the ground,” Gilbert said. “The game is way safer from an equipment standpoint.”

Gilbert referenced a law that Indiana passed in 2016 that limits the amount of head-to-head contact football players can have in practices.

“I believe that has helped a ton,” he said.

The amount of concussions has hit epidemic levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“If they get more than one, especially if they’re not healing in between each one, then I worry longer term,” Kristyn Tekulve, a neurologist with Riley Children’s Health, said.

Tekulve admitted, while most kids fully recover from their first concussion, she sees plenty of sports-related head injuries every year. Kids often experience symptoms including difficult with school, depression, memory problems and trouble regulating their emotions.

Still, she said that she would personally encourage her kids to play sports because the benefit of athletics “greatly outweigh the risks.”

“Everything has risks in life,” she said. “We can be scared of a lot of different things, but I think with appropriate monitoring, appropriate safety, I think sports are a great thing.”

Gilbert said it is important that we keep kids invested in sports because they teach certain values.

“They have been excellent teachers of discipline, grit, toughness and work ethic, coachability and team work. All of those things are things we say are lacking right now in millennials, in various entities,” he said. “High school sports are necessary to teach those things.”

The McDougals and a lot of other families nationwide disagree.

“If you look at Carmel High School, they offer 150 different clubs. Those are all teams. You still have accountability to show up and accountability to do your part. You’re just not hitting heads on a football field,” Renee said.

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