Aspen Institute’s Project Play Report Shows Kids Are Losing Programs to Play Sports During Pandemic

October 12, 2021

Project Play Summit on Oct. 19-20 to highlight challenges and opportunities for recovery


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

Washington, DC, October 12, 2021 – About four out of 10 kids who previously played sports face reduced services from their previous community sports provider or travel sports organization, according to a new Aspen Institute survey of youth sports parents during the coronavirus pandemic. This development could have a profound impact on the quality and accessibility of programs, if enough new programs did not emerge to fill the void.

The national survey, taken in September, showed 15% of travel sports providers and 13% of community teams and organizations closed during COVID-19. Some parents reported their provider merged with another league or club (12% community sports, 8% travel sports) or returned with limited capacity (23% travel sports, 19% community sports). Parents with youth who play middle or high school sports were most likely to indicate that their child’s sports provider resumed at a normal level.

The survey results were released today in State of Play 2021, 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 many kids are back playing sports as families feel more comfortable to return. But significant challenges remain, especially since so many more children became physically and mentally unhealthy during the pandemic. Twenty-two percent of children and teens have been classified as obese during the pandemic, an alarming increase from 19% before COVID-19, according to the CDC.

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

  • Kids are increasingly resuming sports at pre-pandemic levels: In September, 47% of youth sports parents said their child has resumed sports at the same level as before the pandemic; that’s up from 40% five months earlier. Seventeen percent of children resumed playing at a higher level than before COVID-19.
  • Wealth still factors into who plays: This was true before the pandemic and true today. In September, 24% of parents in the highest-income bracket ($100,000 or more) said their child had resumed sports at a higher level than before COVID-19. Only 13%-14% of kids from the two lower-income brackets returned to sports at a higher pre-pandemic level.
  • Parents are adjusting to COVID-19 fears: Half of all youth sports parents view their child getting sick as a barrier to resume play. Yet parent comfort levels with travel sports, community-based sports, and school sports are the highest they have been in the Aspen Institute’s four surveys conducted during the pandemic.
  • Many kids are still losing interest in organized sports: When Project Play and Utah State conducted their first COVID-19 survey in June 2020, 19% of youth sports parents said their child was not interested in playing sports. By September 2021, that figure was 28%. The more money a family has, the less interest a child has in sports these days.

Read the full report:

State of Play 2021 includes Project Play’s Call for Leadership section that provides an update on four recommendations from 2020 to build affordable, quality, community-based programs that can engage more children. Among the developments: Project Play released in August the Children’s Bill of Rights in Sports, a resource to help stakeholders grow access to sports while establishing minimum conditions under which youth are served. More than 80 organizations have endorsed the Bill of Rights.

“The good news is there’s been major progress made in putting in place key pieces that can turn historic challenge into history-making opportunity for more kids to access a quality sports experience,” Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program Executive Director Tom Farrey said. “The challenge: The opportunity is now, and the window will close.”

The opportunity to improve the youth sports model is the focus Oct. 19-20 at Project Play Summit 2021, the nation’s premier event of leaders building healthy communities through sports. Among the topics at the free, virtual event are how to fund youth sports, improve children’s mental health through more coach training, and help underrepresented communities return to play. Speakers include:

  • Jeremy Lin, pro basketball player
  • Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux, Ali Krieger, Ashlyn Harris, women’s soccer stars
  • Josh Pastner, Georgia Tech men’s basketball coach
  • Li Li Leung, USA Gymnastics president and CEO
  • Ben Sherwood, MOJO founder and former president of Disney ABC Television

Programming is available 7-8 pm ET on Oct. 19, and 11 am-3 pm ET and 3:30-5 pm ET on Oct. 20. View the full agenda and register for the Summit:


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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