Today's youth sports are in the Wild West, Gold Rush, days of what will either become a stable industry that serves millions of young people with a positive and important learning environment, or blow up to leave ghost towns of play deserts all across the country.
Today, more than 30 million kids play youth sports and some 14,000 youth sports organizations annually take in $9 Billion. That's a lot of money. What if I told you that all of those youth sports teams, clubs, and leagues take in as much dough as Major League Baseball? You'd say I'd had one too many in the bleachers, right? Well, it's true. According to Forbes, MLB took in $9 Billion in revenues in 2014, the same amount that was spent on youth sports. However, unlike MLB, the youth sports sector is largely unregulated, with little or no transparency in its business practices. The result? Crooks steal money from families and kids.
Last week the New York Times reported on the trend of more and more youth sports volunteers and administrators embezzling "gobs of money" from the very people they've signed on to serve.
We've changed "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," says the Times. Which goes on to state "...oversight of those sums is haphazard and not centralized, as there is no national agency in the country watching over youth sports."
The article claims, that many "organizations often cover up smaller misappropriations to protect their reputations and preserve the ability to raise money in the future."
Though the evidence to back this up is necessarily anecdotal, I do not doubt it.
By stating that there is no clearinghouse comprehensively tracking fraud, nor a national agency watching over youth sports, The Times writer suggests that greater regulation is the answer.
I don't agree. Greater transparency is the answer. As they say, sunshine is the best disinfectant.
We will never be able to take the money out of youth sports, never turn back the clock to the sandlot days, but we can curb the Gold Rush mentality with better and more transparent systems. If parents and coaches demand open and clear viewing of the flow of these vast sums of money, we can channel our huge opportunity to better serve our youth.