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Murray Journal

Murray Park Center responds to changing trends in youth sports

Jan 05, 2024 11:20AM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Murray City pools still attract young people, but recreation administrators are seeking ways to engage youth in other sports. (Photo courtesy of Murray City)

Covid-19’s impact has become a familiar refrain, yet its profound effects cannot be overstated. Just as virtual meetings have become a staple in the workplace, the pandemic has similarly reshaped how young people engage in sports. Post-2019, there's been a discernible shift in youth sports trends: the era of multisport participation is giving way to a preference for year-round specialization in one sport, accompanied by an increased interest in solitary pursuits such as gaming and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) activities.

In a recent interview, Soni Hirasuna, Murray City Recreation director, shed light on the changing landscape of youth participation. With an evident shift toward specialization in one sport and increased interest in individual activities like video games, the Murray Park Center has responded by expanding its offerings. 

Trends in Youth Participation

Hirasuna begins by outlining the specific changes observed: "More youth are now specializing in one sport in a competitive program year-round versus becoming a multisport athlete." This trend reflects a broader national movement toward specialization in sports. Alongside this, Hirasuna noted, "We have seen an increase in youth participating in individual programs such as video games, reading and STEM focused activities." In response, the center has diversified its offerings, adding classes in chess, science, karate, dance and art, catering to these evolving interests.

Community Impact and Long-Term Implications

The downturn in participation has broader implications for the community. Hirasuna expresses concern, stating, "Community engagement and socialization is down among youth. Youth confidence appears a little lower because through recreation programming friends are made, and confidence is improved as skills are developed and applauded." According to Hirasuna, this highlights the role of recreational programs in fostering social skills and self-esteem among young people.

The Covid-19 Effect

When discussing the main reasons behind the drop, Hirasuna points to the Covid-19 pandemic. "Covid was the main factor of the decline in participation numbers," she said, explaining how the restrictions on the number of participants and the suspension of programs under Covid-19 pandemic. “Covid was the main factor of protocols severely impacted participation. This contrasted starkly with the pre-COVID era, which saw no such limitations.

Learning from Other Communities

Hirasuna acknowledges that this is not an isolated issue, observing similar trends in other communities. She suggests that there are lessons to be learned from these areas, noting, "Other communities are trying to re-engage their community by promotions and events to bring them out of their routine of staying home."

Strategies for Re-engagement

To combat this decline, Murray City Recreation Center is implementing various strategies, including increased recreation options, year-round program options, increased marketing and affordable programming. These initiatives aim to make recreational activities more accessible and appealing.

Engaging with Families and Youth

Engaging directly with families and young people has been crucial in understanding their interests. "Asking our community has been the best way to receive feedback on interests," Hirasuna said. This approach has led to the introduction of new family-oriented events like Jigsaw Puzzle Competitions, Family Soccer Golf and special Family Nights.

Vision for the Future

Looking ahead, Hirasuna shared her vision: "Creating a chatter in the community that we run the best programs in the area." This includes training volunteer coaches and continuing to hire knowledgeable staff. "Catering to the individual and making sure we offer something for everyone’s interests" is central to this vision.

New and Upcoming Initiatives

Hirasuna expresses excitement about new initiatives aimed at boosting youth engagement. "We have added over 20 new programs and special events for our community," she said, emphasizing the belief that a variety of year-round programs will not only cater to participants' preferences but also foster community bonding.

While the challenges posed by the decline in youth participation are significant, the Murray Park Center, under Hirasuna's leadership, actively seeks solutions. By adapting to changing interests, engaging with the community, and innovating in program offerings, the center hopes to work toward rekindling youth engagement and restoring the vibrancy of community life in Murray City. λ