The Technology to Solve Youth Sport’s Big Problem

By Brian Covert, Community Builder, Up My Game; TeamSnap user

There is a problem with participation in kid sport.

Unknown to many though is just how big the problem is. Right across the board, no matter the sport, the amount of children starting and staying active in sport is decreasing. The good news is that technology offers solutions that could help reverse the trend.

young athletBut first it’s important to understand just how serious this downward trend has become. The data, tabulated by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association and presented by the Wall Street Journal, says the numbers of kids aged 6 to 17 playing the four most-popular sports – baseball, football, basketball and soccer – declined from 2008 to 2012. Surprisingly it’s basketball that saw the largest drop off, losing 8.3 percent of participants over the study while soccer dropped 7.2 percent of its players, baseball 7.2 percent and football down 5.4 percent. These numbers become increasingly worrying when placed against the backdrop of a childhood obesity epidemic along with concerns over childhood bullying and the like.

To properly evaluate possible solutions though, we must understand why these children are dropping out in the first place. According to data from ESPN’s 2013 Kids In Sport Focus, the most often cited reason (the reasons were presented in a list and participants were able to check off multiple reasons) given by both boys and girls for leaving sport is that “they were not having fun.” Unfortunately, this is largely subjective as the survey can’t determine exactly what is and is not fun.

Going down the list, a clearer picture begins to take shape: 22 percent of boys and 18 percent of girls said they didn’t get along with their coach, 18 percent and 16 percent, respectively, reported not getting along with their teammates, and 15 percent of both felt they just weren’t good enough.

What this data does is paint a picture of a young athlete who just isn’t developing or able to participate in a sport to a level they feel they should. These feelings then lead to a belief they are inadequate, which leads to feelings of resentment toward both coach and teammates, which leads to the feelings that the sport is no longer fun, which inevitably ends in the youth leaving the sport altogether. The whole scenario is quite heartbreaking and is the exact antithesis of what youth sport should all be about.

However, there are several areas where studies suggest the problem can be addressed. Amongst the top are focusing once again on the fun aspects of the game, encouraging effort and skill development and not focusing on results.

This is where adopting technology into youth sport can come in and the most promising technology application in this regard is online video analysis because these video analysis applications can directly address skill development ,which, in turn, gives a young player confidence that then helps them have more fun playing the sport.

One study that looked at the correlation between video analysis and skill development was done in Italy where a group of female volleyball players were divided into two groups – the first, a control group who received no special treatment and the second, an experimental group that used video analysis of their technique but got no feedback from their coach. The results showed “the importance of video analysis training and visual feedback” and that the “the experimental group improved more and in less sessions.” Putting the improvement into numbers, the experimental group saw a 12 percent improvement over the control group in terms of blocking and spiking success over the 10-week experiment. Now, imagine  a coach providing instruction and feedback as well, and video analysis would become an even better tool.

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There are several companies like Up My Game, Ubersense and Coach’s Eye already offering video analysis technology to coaches and athletes alike.  And while all these companies vary in functionality and such, they all operate around the same premise: that through technology, any athlete can receive positive feedback on their skills and technique from any coach from anywhere at anytime.

This technology holds very exciting possibilities for sport development. In fact, it’s quite realistic that these technologies can help address the majority of the reasons youth are dropping out of sport. Through use of video analysis technology any young athlete can get one-on-one coaching for any part of their game they may be struggling with. The opportunities for positive reinforcement abound, and focusing on skill development is of utmost importance. With this focus on development, there is the potential for the young athlete to grow and to discover what is fun about sport.

It would be wrong to say these technologies are the one and only solution for keeping kids engaged in sport, but they certainly have the potential to become a very important tool. Through these applications, kids can receive the attention and positive reinforcement they need to properly develop their skills that will give them confidence which will in turn lead them to having more fun. And in the end that is what’s most important.

 

Brian Covert is a community builder with Up My Game, makers of an app that connects athletes with coaches and uses video analysis to help improve skills, technique, and training. 

Responses...

Anonymous  

I’m not sure video analysis will make it “fun.” It may help improve skill, which could lead to more fun. Or it could lead to less fun because they now see how poor their technique really is.
What will make sports “fun” is to encourage more pick up games without any adults around. Nobody correcting every single mistake. Picking your own position. Playing against older kids and younger kids. No car ride home from a game with dad critiquing that one play in the 5th minute where you let someone score.

Anonymous  

One problem is that participation in minor sport is connected to becoming a pro athlete, so when kids-mostly boys- realize they most likely will not be good enough to go pro they drop out. The culture and the parents glorify pro sports to no end so they/ we create the beast that turns our kids away from sports. For example, hockey’s draft is so young that many kids will not be full grown and therefore overlooked when it comes around, which has an impact on their self-esteem even though they may be talented athletes. Sport has become a materialistic show biz culture and responsible parents should be lobbying against the powers that be that profit from the dreams sold to our children so that sport is something that our kids do for the right reasons -physical fitness/making friends- and not because they think they will one day be a pro athlete. The parents want the $$ and the glory themselves and sell their souls and kids for it.

Brian Covert  

Thanks so much for the comments and for reading the blog. I agree with both of you.

I definitely think too much emphasis is placed on becoming a professional athlete and focus is lost on sport as something that we do because it is “fun”. Sport should be seen more as something that brings us enjoyment throughout our lives – something we can share with family and friends through our lifetimes.

As for space for just pick-up – for sure. Nothing is more fun than a game of 2-v-2 basketball or road hockey. But kids also want to improve; getting better at something is just fun. And as much as parents can’t or hate to admit it, the coach usually knows more than them. So I guess we need room for both a space where kids can play and horse around but also time for structured development where kids can learn properly how to do whatever sport they want to play the most.

Thanks for the feedback.

Anonymous  

2 years ago I began filming my daughters competitive soccer games and putting them on a private YouTube channel. There were several motivating factors, I thought it would be fun to chronicle her progress, it would would give her the opportunity for her to see what we see from the sidelines and I thought it might assist her development by allowing her to critique her play.

It did not take long before other parents began asking about the game footage and if they could get a copy, so I opened up the YouTube Channel to semi-private.

Considering that my daughters teams during this time had horrible results I was concerned about how parents would use the videos so initially they only had access to ‘Play of the Day’ which focused on a play or plays that were executed very well. Another caveat to the Play of the Day footage is that while searching and editing I always found mountains of progress that went unnoticed while watching the game which I would also highlight…..there were generally 10-15 amazing things that happened prior to the positive or negative climax…..it’s the all little things they had been practicing for months.

The parents and players loved videos! They emailed links of these dazzling moments in time to friends and family out of town, or who could not be at the game. And this helped redirect the topic from crappy results towards the positives of the game. Car rides home became less about the score and more about the score they were about fakes and moves!

Another reward of the videos was parents were able to hear themselves during the game footage, and upon hearing themselves most became more conscious of how they were conducting themselves on the sideline.

As for the FUN aspect.

When my daughter her competitive journey I began asking myself what was that special something I did so many years ago my for my rec team that produced the smiling faces and a eagerness to to be at every practice, why did 3 of those girls become some of the best players in the state, why did two of the 3 get D1 scholarships and why did one of them play in the NCAA D1 Championship game…..FUN!

If it isn’t allowed it to be fun, it will be a dead end especially the younger ages.

Ringo Mako  

2 years ago I began filming my daughters competitive soccer games and putting them on a private YouTube channel. There were several motivating factors, I thought it would be fun to chronicle her progress, it would would give her the opportunity for her to see what we see from the sidelines and I thought it might assist her development by allowing her to critique her play.

It did not take long before other parents began asking about the game footage and if they could get a copy, so I opened up the YouTube Channel to semi-private.

Considering that my daughters teams during this time had horrible results I was concerned about how parents would use the videos so initially they only had access to ‘Play of the Day’ which focused on a play or plays that were executed very well. Another caveat to the Play of the Day footage is that while searching and editing I always found mountains of progress that went unnoticed while watching the game which I would also highlight…..there were generally 10-15 amazing things that happened prior to the positive or negative climax…..it’s the all little things they had been practicing for months.

The parents and players loved videos! They emailed links of these dazzling moments in time to friends and family out of town, or who could not be at the game. And this helped redirect the topic from crappy results towards the positives of the game. Car rides home became less about the score and more about the score they were about fakes and moves!

Another reward of the videos was parents were able to hear themselves during the game footage, and upon hearing themselves most became more conscious of how they were conducting themselves on the sideline.

As for the FUN aspect.

When my daughter her competitive journey I began asking myself what was that special something I did so many years ago my for my rec team that produced the smiling faces and a eagerness to to be at every practice, why did 3 of those girls become some of the best players in the state, why did two of the 3 get D1 scholarships and why did one of them play in the NCAA D1 Championship game…..FUN!

If it isn’t allowed it to be fun, it will be a dead end especially the younger ages.

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