PLEASANT VALLEY, Mo. — The Olympic games in Tokyo are less than a year away, and while the focus is on who will compete for Team USA next year, there is a growing concern about having enough athletes for the 2028 Olympics.
The reason being more and more young athletes are calling it quits.
Gene Gentrup, program director of the Kansas City chapter of the i9 Sports Program, said it's a problem all over the country and here in the Kansas City Metro area.
Gentrup said participating in sports while kids are young brings lifelong benefits like learning how to work as a team, doing better in school and being active. He believes the young athlete crisis stems from sports becoming too competitive, too early, which takes away the fun.
A recent study by the Aspen Institute says the average kid today spends less than three years playing a sport and quits by age 11. The study lists costs and overbearing parents as a few factors to the falling participation numbers.
According to a separate study from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), only 38 percent of kids aged 6 to 12 played team sports on a regular basis in 2018. That's down from 45 percent in 2008.
Gentrup said other factors that could be contributing to the participation decline include overbearing parents that are too focused on competitions and scholarships.
"There needs to be more high-fives from parents, more hey good job I'm really proud of you, make them feel good make them want to come back for the next game," Gentrup said.
Research also shows more and more low-income families can't afford to keep up with the rising pay-to-play fees.
The U.S. Olympic Committee is reaching out to the national governing bodies of sports organizations across the country saying they need to stop professionalizing athletes too young.
Chris Snyder, Director of Coaching Education for the U.S. Olympic Committee, recently put together a slideshow presentation explaining what will happen if participation doesn't go up.
The presentation says cutting kids between the ages of 10-12 is hurting the pool of athletes. This means the committee will have less elite athletes to choose from, which could result in losing medals.
Right now, the athletes that would be going to the 2028 Olympic games are between 8 and 14 years-old, which is why the committee says it's crucial to get participation back up.
Gentrup said the way to increase participation is to take the pressure off athletes and let kids be kids.
"They don't care if it's a national tournament or if it's in the backyard, they just want to play," Gentrup said.
He said one of the best things parents can do if they are worried about their kids quitting sports is to make sure they're having fun.