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Club Sports Need Regulation! Petition to Reform the AAU

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Not many industries in the United States can claim responsibility for impacting the lives of over 42.94 million people across the nation, producing an estimated 15.3 billion dollars annually, and is centralized around children, all while operating with no central regulator. This industry is club sports. A club sport is any organization that provides services of "limiting participation to one sport that is practiced, trained for, and competed in on a year-round basis" (Hill & Hansen, 1988). While athletics for kids can promote a healthy lifestyle and develop character, too much of a good thing is not always a good thing in the long run. In one athlete’s story, a volleyball player from Minnesota described athletics as a central part of her identity and claimed that specialization in club sports allows her to maximize that part of herself and relieve the stresses that come with being a student. She also stated that she has experienced “development in people skills” specifically with regards to problem solving with others in a mature fashion and being able to speak up and stand up for herself (Emlong, 2017). To place age restrictions on club sports would have deprived this individual of a part of herself that she has been committed to for years prior to high school. On the other hand, in a study conducted on a college campus two hundred undergraduate students were interviewed and asked about their participation in athletics as a kid. This study made connections between kids who specialized in club sports from a young age and kids with increased injury, “loss of interest, and lack of fun.”(Russell, 2014). This dilemma leads to the question, should a youth athletics bill be passed by congress to limit participation in Club sports in the United States to athletes in high school because of the physiological impact it has on kids such as anxiety and depression and the thousands of dollars it requires from families? Or should the policies on club sports remain the same because of the healthy lifestyle it promotes in kids from a young age and the economic benefit it has on the transportation and athletics industries?


In order to consider specialization in club sports as a social problem worth discussing, it is necessary to understand and analyze the public policy involved in the issue. The key historical factors contributing to this issue began in the late 1800s when youth sports was first introduced in the United States. From its beginnings youth sports has grown to be a 15 billion dollar industry today and impacts the lives of millions since club sports have a great influence on childhood development when kids start young (Gregory, 2017).

Youth sports began in the United States in the late 1800s in an effort to balance the development of the body with the mind and spirit and instill ideals of “group loyalty, national pride, and patriotism for the United States” (Strand, 2010). The first major organization that supported youth sports was the Young Men’s Christian Association, (YMCA) founded in 1851 (Strand, 2010). In the middle of the 20th century youth sports experienced a massive increase in participation due to increased leisure time allowing for more commitment to extra activities. The success of professional athletes also grabbed parent’s attention and motivated them to start their kids young as to increase their chance of ‘going pro’. This mentality has lead to the economically and socially dominating world of youth sports as it is known today. This is evident by the fact that youth sports across the United States has grown to be a 15 billion dollar industry that affects an estimated 21.5 million kids ages 6 to 17 across the nation (Gregory, 2017). Unlike organizations such as the FDA or EPA no one agency or organization monitors youth sports (Kelly, 2013). Therefore, allowing the industry to spiral beyond control.

Since this social issue is quickly emerging in recent years there has not been a single major action to grab the attention of the public to make a change in youth sports. The catalysts of this social issue are more individualized since there is not a governing body to regulate a consistent experience for participants across the United States. These events include long term, overuse injuries in an athlete due to years of club participation, failure of an athlete to make a collegiate team after thousand of dollars of investments by their family, lack of time for studies due to time investments in club sports leading to lower student athlete GPAs, and so much more (CLF, 2017). One such example of this is a volleyball club that did not inform their participants how much they needed to pay for the whole season up front and many athletes had to leave the program since their parents could not afford the increasing prices (Batie, 2017). A problem like this could have been avoided with more regulations and restriction on clubs across the United States.

Value tensions have an important role in the controversy of youth sport specialization. Law vs. ethics is clearly a prominent value tension because policies to put restrictions on athletic clubs would decrease the rate of injury in kids and improve their mental health. However, controversy arises over the question of whether or not it is ethical to deny kids the opportunity to specialize in their sport before high school. The value tension of private wealth vs. commonwealth is also present in this social issue. Since club sports costs families anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 a year depending on the sport, (Smith, 2017). This clearly puts kids from wealthy families at an advantage over kids from families who cannot afford club.

The current debate over club sports is whether or not it is encouraging dangerous behavior for kids. By specializing to one sport from a young age kids are more likely to develop long-term injuries and mental health issues. (Perry, 2016). Currently there is no one organization that oversees all club sports (Kelley, 2013). However, there are many public and private stakeholders who are influenced greatly by club sports. Clearly those directly influenced would be coaches, players, parents, and club directors. Thousands of dollars are coming out of pocket from parents, most of which go to funding the club and paying coaches. Additionally, travel costs are a huge expense that impacts the travel and logging industry greatly. If club sports were to disappear bus companies and hotels would be greatly impacted due to all the out of state travel requirements that bring kids across the country and the world to play their sport. From a social perspective, club sports has the opportunity to develop kids into successful people of good character through learning about sportsmanship, goal setting, social skills, and teamwork. Studies have also shown that teens who engage in sport are less likely to exhibit suicidal tendencies (Merkel, 2013). On the other hand, kids can become overwhelmed and experience depression and anxiety with external pressures to perform well. Pressures range from wanting to play well for their parents or wanting to play well so a college or university will recruit them for the chance to earn scholarship at the postsecondary level (Russell, 2014).

Social Analysis

In order to consider specialization in club sports as a social problem worth discussing, it is necessary to understand and analyze the social aspects of the issue. By looking at this issue through the sociological perspective it can be made clear with the structural functionalism and conflict theories that there are many factors that contribute to youth sports being a prominent social problem in the United States.

The structural functionalist theory views society as a complex system of institutions and structures that perform certain functions to keep the whole of society stable. This theory clearly explains how youth sports is a social problem by showcasing the fact that the institutions dealing with youth sports are a social pathology by being a sickness in society. Youth sports institutions serve are a sickness because they do not perform their function of serving the youth sports community well. Since “no one agency monitors youth sports either as a central part of American childhood or as an industry” it is impossible for it to function coherently in a manner that applies the same rules and regulations to all youth participating across the nation (Kelley, 2013). At this point in history there is anomie surrounding youth sports because there are no regulations. Those institutions affected expand far beyond the institution of clubs across the nation. These institutions include all families with children participating in a club since they are required to invest large sums of money for their child to participate. A social impact on families is the psychological affect youth sports has on kids by the pressure to perform well in the hopes to attain a scholarship. However, this is counteracted with a study that showed “A reduction in suicidal thoughts and tendencies has been demonstrated for both teenage boys and girls who engage in sport.” Additionally, “Three different studies involving adolescents in 2003 found that those who participated in sports, demonstrated improved skills in goal setting, leadership, social intelligence, cooperation, and self-exploration” (Merkel, 2013). The educational institution is impacted as well since kids have to miss school to attend tournaments that require national travel (Gregory, 2017). Finally the institution of Government is impacted since youth sports is responsible for millions of jobs across the nation with taxable incomes, therefore increasing the amount of tax revenue brought in by the government.

On the other hand, the conflict theory views society as being in constant conflict for resources and that conflict is what drives social change. This theory explains how youth sports is a social problem by taking a look at the topic from a non-marxist point of view. There are many differing values and beliefs that are questioned surrounding the topic of youth sports, which is why it is deemed a social problem through the non-marxist approach. Specifically, those who view club sports as an opportunity “to play in front of as many college coaches as possible” would value less regulations on club sports to make this opportunity more attainable (Smith, 2017). On the other hand many individuals feel that “specializing in one sport as a young athlete is the wrong way to go” because it increases the risk of overuse injuries and anxiety due to the stress to perform since a scholarship is on the line (Reed, 2016). Also, the dominant groups in society are the ones who are most involved in club sports since it is such an expensive industry. Therefore, there has not been much change in the industry because according to conflict theory those dominant groups are the ones in power who control the status quo. Since increased regulations on club sports would limit a dominant child’s opportunity to play sports in college the problems in club sports go unnoticed. In order to fix this social problem subordinate groups need to challenge the inequality presented in youth sports and push for conflict to make a change in the organization of clubs across the nation.

If the rules regarding youth sports go unchanged the manifest outcome is that the current social impact of club sports will continue to grow. There are many unethical occurrences in club sports that are allowed to happen because there are no regulations set by institutions such as the NCAA or the MSHSL for example. Coaches are allowed to coach clubs simultaneously with their corresponding college team. Therefore, if one of there club athletes will be competing against the coaches school in college, that athlete is undoubtedly going to be treated and coached differently from an athlete with no affiliation with the coaches college or an athlete committed to that coaches college for the same sport. On the other hand, there are many benefits to youth sports that would also continue if club sports were not managed. Participation in athletics has been shown to decrease anxiety in teenage girls and boys (Merkel, 2013). Since youth sports is still a growing industry, to put limitation on it would mean depriving younger kids of this decrease in stress. Also, youth sports provide a social platform for kids especially kids who are homeschooled and deprived of the social lesions school has to offer. Youth sports teaches kids how to cooperate and strive for a collective goal. This is an important lesson to be instilled in young kids and would be less impactful with a restriction on club sports. As a result a latent outcome of reducing youth sports could be a decrease in team leadership skills in kids.

It is clear that specialization in club sports is a social problem worth discussing. The sociological perspectives presented make it clear that youth sports is a problem on many levels and something must be done to address it especially with the growing economic issues in the industry.

Economic Analysis

In order to assess the impact of enacting a new policy regarding club sports, it is necessary to view the issue from an economic standpoint. Market failure and scarcity in the market have the potential to be remedied with the enactment of this new policy. Simultaneously, the economic costs and benefits must be assessed to determine if it is worth it to fix those issues in the market.

There are many scarce resources that contribute to the social problem of club sports. Scarcity is the result of the demand for a good, service, or resource being greater than the supply, resulting in a shortage. With the specific application of club sports, the most prominent example of scarcity is the short supply of college recruiting positions. The impossibility for every youth athlete participating in club sports to go on to play their sport in college creates the many psychological impacts listed earlier. This is a major reason why club sports is a social issue, because it contributes negatively to the mental health of kids. This impossible feat is shown by the fact that “only 1 percent of high school athletes receive an athletic scholarship.”(Perry, 2016). This statistic shows a clear lack of supply in athletic scholarships when compared to the overwhelming demand of those “21.47 million kids between 6 and 17” participating in youth sports (Kelley, 2013).

Often when market failure is present the government intervenes in some way to keep the market stabilized. However, since there is no government organization that takes responsibility for all club sports the market failure involved in club sports is more severe. The cause for government intervention with market failure is a result of an event in the market system that prevents a proficient allocation of resources. This results in either too much or too little being produced and the prices are not in equilibrium. Market failure comes in many different forms such as: imperfect competition resulting in monopolies, imperfect information between the consumer and producer, immobile resources, too few public goods in the form of roads, bridges, etcetera, and externalities causing negative impacts on individuals other than the direct consumer. A major contributor to market failure in youth sports is imperfect information. For example, a volleyball club in Massachusetts did not provide the information relating to total costs to the club’s players and their parents. As a result, members of the club were forced to pay the increasingly expensive costs of tournaments that were not included in the initial price, or quit after investing as much as they could (Baite, 2017). Also, given the increasingly large cost of participation in club sports, negative externalities are affecting family members of club sport participants. “Families can spend more than 10% of their income on registration fees, travel, and equipment.” (Gregory, 2017). This results in less being provided for other members of the family not participating in club sports such as a sibling. In one extreme case, a family in Minnesota was paying their club dues instead of their mortgage and lost their house due to the fees associated with their daughters volleyball club (Baite, 2017). This not only affects the parents purchasing the service or the child participating, but also the siblings of that participant and family members the club family had to move in with.

Any government involvement to remedy these market failures would have to be enacted at the federal level since clubs often have national travel for tournaments. The most common solution to the market failure of imperfect information is for the government to impose transparency laws. Additionally, when handling negative externalities the easiest solution the government can provide is imposing a higher tax or ban on the product. With the case of club sports a higher tax may deter those who are on the edge of being able to afford it. However, it would more than likely increase the negative externalities since they are cost related. On the other hand, transparency laws would be a very effective solution to the market failure of imperfect information and negative externalities. Since there is no current industry that monitors club sports, one such industry could be created to specialize in the regulation of club sports and include transparency laws especially for the overall cost of the club (Kelley, 2013). A government regulation agency would greatly help with the social issue of club sports since it has proven successful in the past. For example before the Food and Drug Administration was developed facilities contained “shockingly unhygienic conditions” that would produce products for buyers to consume. As a result of the FDA taking effect, the public is much safer due to increased sanitation and strict health codes. (FDA, 2017).

Given that club sports is becoming an ever-increasing aspect of our nation's economy any change in policy would be reflected greatly in the market not only for clubs but also for other industries. The costs of restricting club participation to kids in high school are many because the youth sports industry “is now a 15.3 billion dollar market” (Gregory, 2017). This policy would greatly reduce the demand for club participation since the number of consumers would decrease dramatically resulting in increased prices to make up for losses in revenue. Additionally, the travel, logging, and entertainment industries, being complementary goods to club sports, would take a hard hit as well. Club sports can involve national travel, which means more income for transportation and logging industries. Once athletes are where they need to be they need a place to play so entertainment industries, in the form of major venues, also generate loads of profit from tournaments. If the demand for these tournaments and transportation suddenly decreased it would also cause a drop in income for those industries. On the other hand, if the policy were enacted to only allow high school age participation, families would have more income to spend elsewhere. Without an average yearly payment of $1,000 to $10,000 depending on the sport, families will be able to distribute their income elsewhere in the market, which could make up for the losses in the complementary industries of club sports (Smith, 2017).

In order to decide if limiting participation in club sports is the most effective way to regulate the market all of the previous economic principles must be taken into account. While there are many problems that exist in the market, the costs of limiting it with a new policy based on how much the market has been growing are extensive.

Policy Recommendation

Taking into account all the social and economic impacts that club sports has on individuals and industries across the nation a clear conclusion can be made that club sports participation should not be restricted to high school students. However, it is necessary for action to be taken against the many negative aspects of club sports in the form of a regulatory organization (Kelley, 2013). With this in place club sports has the potential to provide a more consistent and moderated experience for clubs across America. A similar organization to the one proposed is the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which regulates college sports and serves to protect young people from the dangerous and exploitive athletics practices. The NCAA was formed to save football because it was being challenged with the claim that it was too dangerous. As a result, the NCAA was formed to make the process safer to keep football in collegiate athletics (Tredway, 2013). In order to ensure that as many athletes as possible have access to club sports for as long as possible by making it safer, an organization should be created to regulate the industry. Currently, the Amateur Athletic Union “is dedicated exclusively to the promotion and development of amateur sports and physical fitness programs.”(AAU, 2013). Regulation is not included in this definition and the most efficient way to create a regulatory body for club sports is to make adjustments to the preexisting AAU to include club sport regulation.

Keeping club sports accessible to all age groups is essential for numerous social and economic reasons. If participation were limited it would reduce the opportunity for kids to be active and relieve stress and anxiety. Also, delaying the age at which kids can start specializing in their sport will drastically change the environment of collegiate athletics since it has been proven that “in the general category of collegiate athletes over 90% of them participated in club” (Moore, 2017). While there exists social issues in club sports such as college coaches being able to coach at the club level, and anxiety in kids over recruitment, these issues could be resolved or alleviated with a regulatory organization in place. From an economic standpoint, including the specific restriction of limiting participation would greatly hurt the United States economy specifically in the transportation, logging, and entertainment industries. Also, if only the United States put this restriction into action the United States would not be able to host international tournaments for youth that participate in other countries which would even further impact the transportation and logging industries (Gregory, 2017). The regulation that could come from a more advanced AAU however, could enforce that clubs provide accurate information to consumers to avoid market failure.

In order to create a modification for the AAU to become restrictive over club sports essential steps must be taken. In order to evolve the AAU the fist step would be to gain their attention. One way to do so would be to submit a petition regarding the importance of this policy. If enough people claim this lack of regulation as a social issue, then by the labeling theory, it will become a social issue and it would be in the best interest of the AAU to contribute some of its funds into creating a regulatory branch of the organization. In order to accomplish this, new job positions will have to be filled and regulations will have to be created. Once those regulations are in place it will be up to the AAU to enforce those regulations in every club in the United States by having them comply with the new rules.

Given the many complaints regarding club sports and high rates of participation there is no doubt that a petition would create some impact on the AAU (Kelley, 2013). However, the likelihood that they act on this request is low since it would likely cost them thousands of dollars to create a new division of work and ensure all clubs abide by the new rules they set (Havlet). However, since the AAU sponsors many national tournaments they would be in a powerful enough position to limit access to those tournaments if certain clubs do not comply with their newfound rules. Lastly, since this rule creation has been done before by the NCAA on a collegiate level, the likelihood of the AAU creating agreed upon restrictions for clubs would be high since they could use those rules put in place by the NCAA as a guide.

Such with any new regulation there is the potential for negative effects, especially in how people respond to the new regulations. Since the AAU already plays such a major role in the club sports community, the organization would be able to handle any violation or negative effects of the adopted policy. For example, the AAU is responsible for national tournaments across the United States. If certain clubs are found violating the new regulations or refuse to enforce them, the AAU has the power to prevent that club from participating in those major national tournaments (AAU). Additionally, there is the possibility that individuals who play for a club will not agree with the new regulations and leave their team. In order to prevent this breakdown of team structure the AAU can start enforcing their new policies at staggered times depending on what sports are out of season. This way people will be informed of the new policy before their season starts and can decide if they are still willing to participate before committing to a club team.

The atmosphere surrounding club sports is riddled with complex social and economic issues which is why action must be taken to improve the industry so youth of all ages can have access to the opportunities that club sports has to offer. Restricting the age at which kids can participate would deprive younger kids of the opportunity to develop team building, leadership, and a healthy lifestyle early. Additionally, by decreasing the number of participants in club sports many other industries would be greatly impacted due to the revenue club travel costs provides for those complementary industries. In order to provide the best possible experience for all youth athletes the policy of recreating the Amateur Athletic Union into a regulatory organization must be enacted.


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