FRISCO, Texas — A miniature basketball hoop hangs from the bedroom door. Soccer trophies are prominent on the dresser. Each sport competes for the time and attention of David and Matthew Grimes. But both are losing ground to another staple of adolescence: the video game console.

David, 13, and Matthew, 11, are fledgling e-sports athletes.

David thumbs his controllers and listens to strategy talk from a YMCA coach on Monday nights. On Wednesday, he takes on all comers. Matthew has league play on Thursday. At least one weekend a month, they compete in a Super Smash Bros. Ultimate tournament.

David and Matthew are part of a surging migration among members of Generation Z — as those born from 1997 to 2012 are often labeled — away from the basketball courts and soccer fields built for previous generations and toward the PlayStations and Xboxes of theirs.

It’s not a zero-sum game: Many children, including the Grimeses, enjoy sports both virtual and physical. But it’s clear that the rise of e-sports has come at the expense of traditional youth sports, with implications for their future and for the way children grow up.

E-sports got a boost, especially at the grass-roots level, during the pandemic. Between at-home learning and the shutdown of youth sports, a high-tech generation found even more escape and engagement on its smartphones and consoles.

Participation in youth sports was declining even before Covid-19: In 2018, only 38 percent of children ages 6 to 12 played team sports on a regular basis, down from 45 percent in 2008, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.

In June 2020, the pandemic’s early days, 19 percent of parents with kids in youth sports said their child was not interested in playing sports, according to a survey conducted by The Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society Program. By September 2021, that figure was 28 percent.

On average, children play less than three years in a sport and quit by age 11, according to the survey. Why? Mostly, because it is not fun anymore.

The implications are global. There are currently more than 2.4 billion gamers — about one-third of the world’s population, according to Statista, an international marketing and consumer data firm based in Germany. There are professional teams around …….


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