The Future of Youth Sports in America

By | November 14, 2013

While this post is not about Soccer exactly, I think in light of today’s class discussions comparing youth (American) football to youth soccer in the US it is of interest:

Today a Think Progress article came out entitled “Enrollment in Youth Football down 10%”. The numbers given in the article show how youth football in America has been drastically declining since reaching a highest ever point in 2010, when over a quarter of a million young boys participating in the country’s largest youth organization, and over 3 million participating in total. Since then, these have continued to drop, and many involved do not see an upturn in sight.

What is the cause of this downturn? An HBO real sports article highlights that increased visibility and concern about concussions and their long term effects on players is to blame. 1 in 3 Americans surveyed said that the risk of concussions would make them less likely to let their son play football, and 1 in 5 said long term effects would be a “deciding factor” in allowing their child to play or not to play. While this is not the only thing to take into account in terms of football enrollment rates going down, it is clearly something that is in the forefront of most people’s minds, especially parents trying to decide if they want their children to participate or not.

What about concussions in soccer? While most consider concussion rates to be lower in soccer than in football, true statistics for concussions in any sport are hard to come by since most concussions go unreported – – a recent study found that less than 50% of high school athletes reported concussions they sustained during a single football season. In terms of soccer, it is believed to have concussion rates much higher than other sports, but still smaller than football. Interestingly, heading the football is not always the main cause. Most concussions sustained in soccer are due to running into other players, the ground, or the goalposts, and not the soccer ball itself. A recent book entitled “Is Soccer Bad for Children’s Heads: Summary of the IOM Workshop on Neuropsychological Consequences of Head Impact in Youth Soccer explores this very issue, and a sneak peak of the books chapters can be found here. While concussions do happen in soccer more than in other sports, the overall levels are still much lower than they are believed to be in American football, although again the lack of effective reporting and data is a concern for real comparison.

The bottom line with all of this is that, while concussions are much more prevalent than reported in both sports, the current debate is centered around American football, and it is within the youth leagues of that sport where we are  beginning to see more and more concern from parents about whether or not football is safe for their children. The overall impact of such studies and debates is yet to be seen. Will this increase of information lead parents to encourage their children to play soccer instead of football? Or are they more likely to push their children into other more “American” sports? Going off of our conversation in class today, would such a grassroots shift away from football be enough to help create a sustainable soccer system here in the United States, or will more top-down institutional changes still have to be made? Could the risk of concussions lead the MLS to become the next NFL? Or will concussions become an issue in soccer just like they have become an issue in football? All this remains to be seen, but it does open the door for some interesting debates.



Think Progress:

HBO Real Sports:

Unreported Concussions:

Is Soccer Bad for Children’s Heads: Summary of the IOM Workshop on Neuropsychological Consequences of Head Impact in Youth Soccer:


3 thoughts on “The Future of Youth Sports in America

  1. Jodi Murphy

    I read somewhere that after football players, female soccer players suffer from more concussions than anyone else. People don’t realize how physical soccer can be. Just because slamming into each other isn’t part of the game that doesn’t mean kids can’t get hurt.

  2. Daniel Carp

    I’m not going to argue that concussions aren’t a major issue in football because they are. But I’m curious to see what correlations there are between soccer and traumatic brain injuries. Although the force is definitely less than a 300-pound lineman smacking you around, heading the ball is a part of the sport and some players do it many times per game. My gut tells me that can’t be good for your brain either.

  3. Bryan Silverman

    What I think is interesting about stories like this, I am curious about what the disconnect seems to be between youth participation in sports and fandom. In fact, the United States has the largest youth participation in soccer, but for some reason, that does not translate into fandom. I also think it is very interesting because we see the increase number of fans in football actually negatively affecting the sport of American football, considering the publicity we see with retired players often being inflicted with concussions and other negative symptoms. However, due to the lack of fan participation in soccer, concussions, as you say, have not pervaded into the public eye. It is interesting how soccer may have just as many concussions, yet because there is less demand in terms of fans, we do not hear as much about it and therefore, youth participation may actually increase compared to football.


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