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Most teenagers don’t play sports at school. We could change that.

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I’ve been thinking about kids and sports because I read a recent Aspen Institute report called Sport for All/Play for Life: A Playbook to Develop Every Student Through Sports.

The Aspen Institute is a group that researches many important issues, including youth sports.

Exercise is important because studies show that children who are physically active are less likely to be obese (overweight to a level that threatens their health). They are also less likely to smoke or use drugs. In addition, physically active children perform better on academic tests and are more likely to attend college.

The problem is that most kids stop playing sports by the time they get into high school. This means that many children do not get enough exercise.

The Aspen Institute recently surveyed nearly 6,000 high school students. The number one reason these teens don’t play sports in high school is because they have too much homework.

Perhaps schools should give less homework so students have more time for physical activity. (I think I can hear kids cheering for this suggestion!)

Another reason teens don’t play in high school is because their school doesn’t offer sports that interest them.

It makes sense. If kids are interested in sports like skateboarding and rock climbing, why don’t schools offer these sports in addition to traditional sports like soccer, basketball, and soccer?

While the Aspen Institute proposes solutions such as community partnerships and better training for coaches, the problem seems to be that youth sports in the United States aim to find the “best” athletes, rather than encouraging as many kids as possible to play and be physically active.

In a better world, youth sports would emphasize participation at a young age over all-star and travel teams. That could help more kids stick with their sport, rather than quitting around the age of 13.

If there were more “Sportkids,” it could encourage high and middle schools to offer more intramural and club sports, rather than just the usual varsity sports that only serve a small group of kids. Or perhaps city and county recreational departments would respond by organizing more recreational leagues and teams for high school-age children.

I have nothing against competitive varsity high school sports. My kids played on high school teams and loved it. The best kids should have the opportunity to develop their talents against good competition. Just like the kids with the best voices and acting talent get the lead roles in school musicals or plays.

However, the goal of everyone should be to give as many children as possible a positive sporting experience that will enable them to become more active adults.

This may mean that we need to change the way we approach youth sport.

Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 27 children’s sports books. His latest book is Hardcourt: Stories From 75 Years of the National Basketball Association.

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