Fairfax County releases new report on county’s demographics

Fairfax County has released a wide array of updated demographic information. This data provides a lot of insight into who we are now and who we may become.

One interesting trend is the increase in students eligible for free and reduced lunch:

From 2002-2014 the Fairfax County elementary student membership increased by 17%. During the same time period the number of students eligible for free and reduced lunches increased by 72%.

One of the reasons this jumped out at me is the ongoing struggle to make sure that these children have the opportunity to play sports as well as have access to other extracurriculars like art, museum visits and more.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth saying again. We need to make sure we help these children and their families. Sports (and other activities) should never be out of their reach. Through scholarships, assistance with uniforms and equipment, and opportunities to achieve their full potential, we can make sure that all the incredible benefits of sports are available to everyone in our community

Trophy Kids

I am a huge believer in the positive value of youth sports. But I also know that some parents take it too far. HBO aired a documentary that looked at some of these issues. When you have a chance, Peter Berg’s The State of Play: Trophy Kids is worth taking the 55 minutes to watch.


Girls Volleyball Now Has More Players than Girls Basketball

espnW has a new story about the growth of girls volleyball. Why volleyball — not basketball — is winning the popular vote, is worth a quick read.

One of the interesting things in the story is the changing numbers between girls volleyball and basketball.

Two years ago, for the first time, more high school girls played volleyball (432,176) than basketball (429,504), according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. In 2015-16, volleyball added another 4,133 girls to those numbers, while basketball lost 276 participants.

Examine the past decade, and the numbers are more striking. Statistics compiled by the NFHS show an increase of more than 40,000 volleyball players in that span and a decrease of 23,000 basketball players.

But buried deeper in the article is a not about places where volleyball growth is beginning to slow. They note, “The boom in what she [Kathy DeBoer] calls ‘pay-to-play’ youth volleyball makes it less and less likely that a girl with minimal experience will be able to play at her high school…’And that’s what happened in basketball,’ she said.”

While not the focus of the article, this is an important cautionary note for all sports. As any sport grows, so does the professional or “pay-to-play” infrastructure. And we all need to work hard to make sure that the growth of this infrastructure doesn’t force out players or make sports less accessible.

Washington State Dept of Health: No Cancer Cluster Among Soccer Players

On January 19, 2017, the Washington State Department of Health released a study titled Investigation of Reported Cancer among Soccer Players in Washington State. The News Tribune reports, “The study was prompted by an ongoing debate over whether the use of crumb rubber — made from recycled tires — to cushion artificial turf fields could cause cancer in young athletes.”

The report found lower rates of cancer among soccer players than expected. “[T]his finding does not suggest that soccer players, select and premier soccer players, or goalkeepers in Washington are at increased risk of cancer compared to the general populations.”

Fairfax County continues to look at these and other materials as part of the Health Department’s ongoing efforts to ensure the safety of county residents. A memo was sent to the Board of Supervisors on February 2, 2017, by County Executive Ed Long. In the memo, he concludes, “Currently available research on artificial turf has not shown an elevated health risk from playing on fields with crumb rubber. As such, the county will continue its standard practice of using crumb rubber as a synthetic infill until new scientific evidence or guidance about the public health risk of crumb rubber emerges.”

The Washington State Department of Health has an excellent FAQ about the study on their site.

The Participation Gap

I had never considered that there could be a link between a parent’s level of education and a child’s participation in sports. I should have. It makes sense. Closing the Gap in Access to Summer Camp and Extracurricular Activities finds that there is a connection and that we need to figure out how to deal with it. And it’s not just sports. It’s summer camps, trips to the zoo, after-school extracurriculars, and other enrichment programs.

This graphic illustrates the problem in sports. There is a 50% increase in the participation of children 6 to 11 years old in sports if the parent has an advanced degree v. some amount of college education.

And the numbers are similar for clubs and various kinds of lessons. (Like piano lessons.)

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More Proof High School Sports Help Girls

In this 2009 paper, Beyond the Classroom: Using Title IX to Measure the Return to High School Sports, author Betsey Stevenson finds that increase participation by girls in high school sports leads to increases in girls going to college as well as increases in female participation in the workforce.

Here’s the official Abstract:

Between 1972 and 1978 U.S. high schools rapidly increased their female athletic participation rates—to approximately the same level as their male athletic participation rates—in order to comply with Title IX, a policy change that provides a unique quasiexperiment in female athletic participation. This paper examines the causal implications of this expansion in female sports participation by using variation in the level of boys’ athletic participation across states before Title IX to instrument for the change in girls’ athletic participation. Analysis of differences in outcomes across states in changes between pre- and post-cohorts reveals that a 10-percentage point rise in state-level female sports participation generates a 1 percentage point increase in female college attendance and a 1 to 2 percentage point rise in female labor force participation. Furthermore, greater opportunities to play sports leads to greater female participation in previously male-dominated occupations, particularly in high-skill occupations.

Here’s the full paper online.


Heads Up: Not a Silver Bullet, But Part of the Solution

A New York Times investigation finds that there may be flaws in the National Football Leagues conclusion that their Heads Up program has reduced concussions. After going through the detailed data of the study that the NFL relied on, the Times concludes that the program had little impact and that other changes in the Pop Warner program actually were the cause of the overall changes.

Rather than looking at Heads Up Football leagues in one category, the paper instead split them into two groups: those that did or did not also belong to Pop Warner Football, a division of youth leagues that has added its own rules to mitigate injuries. Pop Warner leagues have disallowed certain head-on blocking and tackling drills and drastically reduced full-contact practice time, measures that were not a part of U.S.A. Football’s program.

As it turned out, only leagues that adhered to Pop Warner’s rules saw a meaningful drop in concussions. Leagues that used Heads Up Football alone actually saw slightly higher concussion rates, although that uptick was not statistically significant. The previously reported drops were clearly driven by a league’s affiliation with Pop Warner, not Heads Up Football.

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Growing Awareness of Concussions in Youth Sports

An article in today’s Washington Post highlights the growing awareness of concussions in youth sports. The rapidity of this change still amazes me. It was not that many years ago that I hosted an event on concussions for Burke Athletic Club. Several parents contacted me saying that they were surprised that I would host such an event and invite soccer parents since concussions were not a problem in soccer.

They were wrong. Concussions were and are a problem in soccer and in many other youth sports. And the impact of that is seen in this article with the perception that youth football – especially tackle football – is too dangerous.

According to the Post:

Opposition to playing football before the age of 14 is strongest among women, with 84 percent opposed and 94 percent opposed to kids playing tackle football before they are 10. Eighty-eight percent of men oppose the idea of kids playing tackle football before they turn 10.

We have a lot to do to regain their trust and to make youth sports as safe as we can make it.

Adults Stealing from Children

It always upsets me when I see adults stealing from children’s groups. Whether taking cash from a concession stand or stealing it directly from a youth group’s bank account, it happens far too often. This New York Times story explores the dangers and reminds me yet again, that audits are so important.

From the New York Times:

The youth sports boom in the United States, fortified by at least 30 million participants, has turned what were once homespun local leagues into quasi-professional enterprises with annual budgets that experts who track nonprofits say regularly reach $250,000 — if not twice that.

Yet with the growth and development has come a long list of embezzlement and other corruption cases unfolding in a void of oversight and regulation and capitalizing on community trust. 

Across the country, people who volunteered as treasurers and other officers for Little Leagues and sports clubs have been prosecuted for pilfering gobs of money from the coffers: $220,000 in Washington, $431,000 in Minnesota, $560,000 in New Jersey, and so on, according to law enforcement authorities, league officials, experts on nonprofit organizations and news reports.

While I do not believe this requires national oversight or some new federal agency, it does remind everyone involved in youth sports that audits are critical. They can be hard to do and, especially the first time, can require changes to process and procedure. While it takes more time and requires more effort, it is worth it.