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Virginia Sports & Entertainment Law Journal

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Introduction The American youth sports industry has become an economic behemoth, totaling roughly $19 billion in annual revenue. This revenue outpaces National Football League (NFL) revenue by several billion dollars and is more than double the revenue earned by the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League, combined. The Covid-19 pandemic limited sport on all levels in 2020 and, to a lesser extent, in 2021, and the economic effects thereof will certainly stretch forward into succeeding years. However, as the nation overcomes the virus and children return in full numbers to gyms, fields, tracks, and rinks, youth sports will charge on as big business. They will continue to be televised on national networks and streamed across countless media platforms, and will continue to provide a livelihood for scores of adults, the most enterprising among whom will continue to make fortunes through youth sports entrepreneurship. Towns that have based their entire economies around youth sports tourism will continue to thrive, and copycat towns will sprout up. In short, scores of adults will continue to benefit from the youth sports industry. There is, however, a related cost, and it is born principally by youth athletes. What was once a fun and recreational endeavor for children has grown into a cash cow, substantially intensifying the environment within which the children play. This often operates to the children's physical, emotional and psychological detriment - driving some young athletes out of sport prematurely and damaging the experiences of those who remain involved. This article argues that reform is necessary. Currently, youth sports stakeholders - coaches, trainers, sports clubs, training facility operators, and others - are essentially unregulated. They are bound only by their own standards, which ensures uneven regulation across regions, states, localities, and clubs. To protect America's children from mistreatment in an industry whose goal is ostensibly to ensure their well-being, uniform nationwide regulations are necessary. Part I of this article details the history of youth sports development in the United States as well as the travel sports phenomenon that currently dominates America's youth sports landscape. Part II explores the dynamics driving families to commit substantial time and money to their children's participation in youth sports. Part III outlines the danger the youth sports industry poses to children and society, focusing principally on premature sports specialization, spectator incivility, and socioeconomic stratification. Part IV examines Norway's highly successful model of youth sports governance and presents it as a model for American youth sports reforms. Part V explores the United States federal government's engagement in youth sports historically and contemporarily. Finally, Part VI presents a prescription for American youth sports reform.



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