Fencing doesn’t just happen in isolation, it’s part of the wider world of youth sports. There are millions of kids under the age of eighteen that participate in youth sports in the United States. There is a culture around kids competing that we fencers participate in, whether we are aware of it or not. Trends in youth sports affect us!
It’s worth exploring the trends in youth sports so as to give us a better understanding of where fencing is and where it’s going. So here are thirteen mind blowing facts about youth sports in general and fencing in particular to help you get the big picture.
1. Youth sports is big business.
Annual estimates for spending on youth sports range from $15 billion dollars each year. This is for ages 5-18. That’s a lot of money, and it’s going up every year. One in five families spends around one thousand dollars per month on youth sports, per child. That’s about the same as the average mortgage!
2. Sports define kids.
Thirty-four percent of girls and sixty-one percent of boys who play sports list those sports as being a big part of who they are. We certainly know that from fencing, where your weapon becomes a further defining factor.
3. Fun is a big deal.
More than one third of kids who quit a sport do so because it’s not fun. When we do this, we should be doing it to have a good time! That’s a top priority for kids. Even when fencers progress to higher levels, the sport should continue to be fun for them so that they can enjoy participating. Even though there are tough times in training, it’s that carrot of a fun time that keeps fencers pushing through.
4. Urban kids have less access generally, but fencing is different.
This is an interesting one for fencing, because of course fencing tends to be centered in larger cities. Small towns and rural areas almost never have access to fencing learning for kids. However in the big city there are far fewer roster positions open to kids across all youth sports – 39% urban vs. 50% suburban for boys and 50% versus 63% for girls. For fencing, that means that urban areas actually have a better chance at capturing the overflow.
5. Kids are busy!
More than half of kids (51%) in the suburbs who play sports play at least three! Wow! We talk about busy kids, and that’s a crazy statistic. Juggling several sports and school as well can be tough, and we know that we see a lot of burnout. Competitive fencing can be more demanding than other sports, especially team sports. However there are always ways to find balance, and that has to be a priority. What we tend to see is that after a year in fencing, most kids drop their other sports to focus solely on this one. They don’t tend to drop other activities though, and are often highly participatory in math or language classes, robotics, programming, the arts, and other after school programs. Their lives are totally busy, but not with other competitive sports!
6. Younger kids are participating
Though for most kids fencing doesn’t start until age 8-10 in training and age 10-12 in larger competitions, it’s definitely feeling the same push that other sports are feeling. 47% of girls and 67% of boys are participating in organized sports by the age of six. We’re even seeing a trend to go even younger! Sports like gymnastics and soccer start kids as young as three. While we can’t imagine fencing going that young, it’s important to note that thirty years ago no one would have imagined a Y8 competition.
7. Older kids are dropping out
The teen years represent the biggest drop off for youth sports. As kids get older and social demands, school demands, and parental influence change, they tend to fall off the wagon of sports. Most kids who play sports quit around the age of thirteen, where those who stay on into high school tend to stick with it all the way through to college.
8. Injuries do happen
Kids do get hurt playing sports. Every year, more than three and a half million kids under the age of fourteen have to get medical treatment for sports related injuries. The Centers for Disease Control tells us that more than half of those could have been prevented. It’s worth noting here that fencing is among the youth sports with the lowest rate of injuries, and surprisingly those injuries are rarely related to the weapon and most often are things like sprains and muscle strains.
9. Friends matter to kids
One of the biggest reasons kids want to participate in sports is to hang out with their friends. And that’s a great reason! Positive peer relationships are a major benefit of fencing and indeed of any sport. Kids get to share something with others in a healthy environment, they get to make those connections. We have seen again and again friendships that last many years thanks to that first connection in fencing. Sixty-five percent of kids say they are in sports to be around their friends.
10. The score doesn’t matter
For kids, it’s really not about winning. Sixty-one percent of kids say that they wouldn’t care if no one kept score. Though fencing is driven by getting that point, we can definitely see that it’s not the points that make it worthwhile. It’s the joy of fencing itself that makes you want to fence!
11. Going pro is unlikely
Of course “pro” is relative for fencing, but the World Championships and the Olympics are passable equivalents for our sport. Of the roughly 37,000 fencers registered with the USA Fencing in 2016, only 17 (including 3 team replacements) are on the Olympic team. That’s roughly a 1 in 2,200 chance of being an Olympian. Other sports with pro leagues have similar odds. 1 in 10,000 for basketball, 1 in 6,000 for football, 1 in 4,000 for baseball. The trick here is to realize that, while that’s a great dream to work towards, kids have to find fulfillment in their fencing by other means than chasing the Olympic dream.
12. Adults aren’t always a good thing
This is a sobering and troubling figure. 45% of kids across youth sports report being insulted or called names by their coaches. Positive coach relationships are the hallmark of success, and there is simply no place for bullying in fencing or in any kid’s sport. It’s not just coaches though, 37% of kids report that they wish their parents wouldn’t even watch them play because of the added pressure. Fencing parents should work hard to ensure that they aren’t putting undue stress on their fencers, and they can also be proactive in finding the right fencing coach.
13. Youth sports teach positive life lessons
There is good stuff to be learned from sports for kids! For kids who participate in youth sports, sixty-seven percent say that they met people that they wouldn’t otherwise have gotten to meet, increasing their social circle and building their connection to the community. Forty-two percent report developing self-discipline. Sixty-six percent say that they learned to work more effectively in a group. Our fencers also report learning how to cope with losing and how to have more self control. There are tons of life lessons that youth fencers get to incorporate through the taking on of a sport!
These facts and figures matter because they show us out how important youth sports are in America. They also give us a sometimes challenging window into the disordered nature that some sports have fallen into, in particular when it comes to adult influences. What we as parents want to do is to take the best parts of youth sports and run with those, then incorporate our own fencing culture to grow forward for young fencers.
What these numbers don’t show are the unmeasurable amounts of heart and joy that youth sports bring to kids. Our biggest concern should be to support kids in fencing and in all youth sports to help them grow into effective, happy adults! It’s also true that we want to think towards the future for fencers, to how the sport of fencing itself is going to keep on changing and evolving.
Whether you’ve been a longtime fencer or are brand new to the sport, hopefully you learned something from these incredible facts. There’s always some new facet to challenge our understanding of fencing and how it works, especially as it continues to become more popular as a youth sport.