1 big thing: Youth sports on pause

By Nancy Justis, Iowa Youth Sports Initiative

When you hear "youth sports," colorful images of orange slices and vivid memories of pizza parties might fill your head.

Perhaps then your mind shifts to some of the recent trends: skyrocketing costs, participation declines, the rise of specialization and the world of pay-to-play leagues and mega-complexes.
The state of play: The professionalization of youth sports has created a world of private coaching and inter-state travel with families willing — and able — to spend as much as $20,000 per year on youth sports.

Meanwhile, low-income families have been priced out, robbing their children of the opportunity to not only excel at a sport but also exercise regularly and make friends.
The most optimistic projections for a return of youth sports are by late August, meaning most seasons and tournaments have been cancelled. The industry stands to lose billions and a landscape-altering reckoning awaits.
Why it matters: The same way kids don't go to school just to learn algebra or the periodic table, they don't play sports just to get better at kicking or hitting.

Coaches are tasked with teaching teamwork, accountability and countless other life skills. But with youth sports on pause, so are those developmental opportunities.
By the numbers: According to a survey conducted by LeagueSide, which connects youth sports organizations with sponsors, 49% of parents believe their children will be less likely to participate in youth sports due to financial circumstances, which could leave nearly 20 million kids on the sidelines.

Beyond that, 85% of parents listed sports as a key way for their kids to make friends, laying bare that this is about much more than missed practices.
The big picture: There's no returning to normal. The question is: what is the youth sports model that comes out of this?

Does this crisis simply widen the gap between those who can afford to pay for travel teams and those who can't? Or will it lead to a hard reset that brings about fundamental change and makes youth sports more inclusive?
These questions have implications not only for the health and well-being of children, but also for the professional leagues that rely on youth sports to forge future generations of players and fans.
The bottom line: COVID-19 has placed youth sports at a crossroads, and this forced hiatus gives us a chance to examine the state of industry and what it might look like when this crises wanes.