Youth sports in Western New York were put under the microscope in a first of its kind study from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation and Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo.
The study was conducted by Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program and examined the access, quality and participation in youth sports across the Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans, and Wyoming counties.
Part of the study surveyed youth sports providers and other stakeholders who gave the region a C+ grade in getting kids active through sports. Researchers found only 16% of WNY children are active for at least one hour a day, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The study found the way children are engaging in sports is changing with fewer youths playing casually with friends or in pickup games and more taking part in organized leagues and teams.
"The sports experience has changed dramatically over the past generation or so, with children participating in fewer sports and activities near their homes," the report states. "Casual/pickup play has become far less common, with more youth primarily playing in organized team settings."
The report detailed several challenges facing youth sports in WNY. The experience has become "over-structured" with more organized sports and fewer children engaging in "free-play". The findings show more youths are specializing in a particular sports, while researchers recommend children play a variety of sports with the goal to create "athletes for life" rather than feeding the "myth" of becoming a professional athlete.
43% of WNY parents surveyed coached youth sports in the past 5 years but, according to the study, only 22% had formal concussion management training, less than half had general safety and injury prevention training and around 60% had CPR and basic first aid training.
Here are the top sports played by children in WNY in either organized or unstructured settings:
Top Five Youth Sports Among Boys in WNY:
Top Five Youth Sports Among Girls in WNY:
The report made several recommendations to policy makers and stake holders in order to expand access to quality youth sports across WNY:
- Invest in more and better parks.
- Build an indoor sports complex in Buffalo.
- Engage more racially diverse leaders.
- Turn college athletes into youth coaches.
- Educate and empower parents.
You can view the full report here.