Aspen Institute’s Project Play Report Shows Kids Are Losing Interest in Sports During Pandemic

October 6, 2020

Project Play Summit on Oct. 13-16 to highlight challenges and opportunities for recovery

Contact: Jon Solomon
Editorial Director, Sports & Society Program
The Aspen Institute

Washington, DC, October 6, 2020 –– Almost three out of 10 kids who previously played sports are no longer interested in participating, according to a new Aspen Institute survey tracking the attitudes of youth sports parents during the coronavirus pandemic. The latest national survey, taken in September, showed 29% of parents view their child’s disinterest in sports as a barrier to returning when restrictions are lifted, up from 18% in May and 19% in June.

The survey results were released today in State of Play 2020, which is a report issued annually by the Aspen Institute’s Project Play initiative that examines the latest data and trends in youth sports. The report shows some progress was made in 2019 to grow youth sports participation and train more coaches. But the COVID-19 shutdown dramatically changed the landscape, creating financial and health concerns for many youth sports organizations and families.

Among the key findings from the most recent parent survey, which Aspen conducted in partnership with Utah State University’s Families in Sport Lab:

  • Though more kids are returning to sports, 64% of parents said they worry their child will get sick by playing again, up from 61% in June and 50% in May. Black, Hispanic and Asian parents expressed greater concerns than White parents. However, parents of all races reported more comfort in September with their children resuming individual pickup games (71%), community-based sports (58%), interscholastic sports (57%) and travel sports (52%) than in June.
  • The average child has spent about 6½ hours less per week on sports during COVID-19. Children’s time playing games declined 59% and practice hours dropped 54% during the pandemic. Both categories saw increases in September compared to June.
  • Individual sports have become more popular during the pandemic. Bicycling went from the 16th most-popular sports activity based on hours spent by children prior to COVID-19 to No. 3 since June, behind only tackle and flag football.

State of Play 2020 includes Project Play’s Call for Leadership – four recommendations with tactical ideas for policymakers and civic leaders, community recreation groups, educators, medical professionals, and national sport organizations to mobilize around. Project Play held listening sessions and solicited feedback from leading national and local youth sports organizations. A consensus emerged: The heightened need to save and build affordable, quality, community-based programs that can engage children at scale.

“The fundamental flaws in the current youth sports model have been laid bare by COVID-19,” said Tom Farrey, Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program Executive Director. “Recreation options for lower-income kids, already minimized by a shift in recent decades toward expensive travel teams, are threatened. A more balanced model for sports could emerge from this crisis. Project Play looks forward to helping our network understand the opportunities and drive measurable progress in service of our youth.”

Read the full report:

More than 50 speakers will gather virtually Oct. 13-16 for Project Play Summit 2020, the nation’s premiere gathering of leaders building healthy communities through sports, to begin mobilizing around a more sustainable model. Speakers include:

  • Alex Morgan, U.S. women’s soccer star
  • Adam Silver, NBA commissioner
  • Allyson Felix, six-time Olympic track and field gold medalist
  • Terrell Owens, Pro Football Hall of Famer
  • Crystal Dunn, World Cup champion
  • Laurie Hernandez, Olympic gold medal gymnast
  • Michael Lewis, The Blind Side and Moneyball author
  • Tatyana McFadden, seven-time Paralympic gold medalist
  • Vince Carter, former NBA All-Star/ESPN analyst
  • Apolo Ohno, most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian ever
  • Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN president
  • Sarah Hirshland, U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee CEO
  • Brian Hainline, NCAA chief medical officer
  • Ron Nirenberg, San Antonio mayor
  • Chiney Ogwumike and Kayla Alexander, WNBA players
  • Hayden Hurst and Eric Kendricks, NFL players

Free programming is available each day online from 11 am-noon ET and 1-2 pm ET. Limited spots are still available for paid workshops. View the full agenda and register for the Summit:

Editor’s Note: Jon Solomon and Tom Farrey are available for media interviews. Please direct inquiries to

About Project Play
An initiative of the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program, Project Play develops, applies and shares knowledge that helps stakeholders build healthy communities through sports. For more information, visit

About The Aspen Institute
The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society. Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute has a campus in Aspen, Colorado, and an international network of partners.


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