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Can’t pay? Can’t play.

Kathleen Castles, now a 46-years-old doctor of psychology and running coach at two Veterans Affairs hospitals in New Jersey, loved sports as a child and was a very talented athlete. She managed to beat all the other elementary-school girls in the town’s annual mile race from third to sixth grade, competed at the regional cross-country meet in Connecticut, and every year qualified for the Junior Olympic Nationals. When she was 10, she ran the mile in 5min and 35sec.

Her family was very poor, but track and cross country coach Ken Kuebler saw something in her. He supported Kathleen’s career with other coaches by providing her essentials for training, like running shoes and suitable clothing, and made sure she had something to eat for lunch since food was often scarce at home. Kuebler also drove her to races in other states and delivered her home after practice when she was in high school. Her parents had to regularly rely on teachers, friends’ parents, and church members for everything from food to fees for her summer running camp.

Castles went on to graduate from medical school and resumed competitive running in her 30s. At 36 she ran her first marathon and qualified for the Olympic Trials in Boston, finishing in 2 hours and 42 minutes. At the age of 40, she managed to qualify again. Today, running is so linked to her identity she can’t separate out her athletic life from all the rest.

Kathleen’s brilliant athletic talent was achieved due to the active support she received from coaches and other members of the community. Unfortunately, there are thousands of kids out there enduring similar material deprivation, but without this opportunity. According to data released by the Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society program, the primary driver of kids’ athletic participation is the household wealth. Children ages 6-12, whose family income is under $25,000, are nearly three times as likely to be inactive in sports in comparing to those whose families make more than $100,000.

There is a variety of causes that keep lower-income children from being active in sports. Some sports require costly facilities to play (hockey, swimming, golf), but also those that are in general open to all (basketball, football, track) tend to be limited since parks in low-income areas tend to lack organized activities for kids.

One of the more obvious causes that push poor kids even further out from sports nowadays is kids sports professionalization. According to Time, the business of kids’ sports has grown by 55% since 2010 and is now a $15.3 billion industry. Parents, who are looking at a college scholarship, invest in specialized camps, private clubs, leagues, equipment, and travel teams, while children from less fortunate families fill out fading uncompetitive town leagues. All this results in about 70% of kids leaving sports entirely by the age of 13.

There’s a number of different organizations that are actively trying to bring athletic opportunities to all kids. But although such programs are certainly improving kids’ lives, they’re just “a drop in a bucket” compared to the scale of the problem, said Mark Hyman, the author of Until It Hurts. We at SportyCo strongly believe that sporting opportunities should be open to all children equally since sports have beneficial effects on youth health and success that stretch far into adulthood. And if they decide to pursue a career in sports, they can count on our platform for funding!

Source: The Atlantic


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