Where Have all the Children Gone

June 1, 2020  • Institute Staff

Youth sports comprise an estimated $19 billion industry that ordinarily gathers millions of people at thousands of sites across the country daily. But how should sports proceed during the coronavirus pandemic? Should kids take part in outdoor recreation? How should they get physical activity during the shutdown? The Institute’s Sports & Society Program is collecting information on how the outbreak is impacting youth sports, a focus of the Project Play initiative. In March, as the outbreak began, Project Play created a coronavirus and youth sports resource page ( and began producing multiple stories per week about related issues, such as the growing virtual-training trend and how the stimulus bill could impact sports businesses. Project Play also hosted webinars to explore the future of youth sports. “Now, for the first time in history, children from all backgrounds have the same access to a great organized sports experience: none,” Tom Farrey, the executive director of Sports & Society, said in March. The last economic recession triggered a stunning drop in youth sports participation rates, from 45 percent playing team sports regularly in 2008 to 38 percent by 2014. Government pulled back on recreation funding, and sports programs became increasingly privatized, dominated by families with resources, which limited access for many kids and crowded out casual play for many others. “This time, we have the knowledge and capacity to not just head off another drop,” Farrey said, “but to implement sustainable solutions that put kids, from all homes, first.”