MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — We love our pro, college and high school sports, don’t we?

But the truth is, right now, youth sports in America is really struggling.

According to a study by the Sports Fitness Industry Association, participation among kids age 6 to 17 has declined more than 9 percent in the last five years. And 70 percent of kids quit team sports by age 13.

These are startling numbers that have led the YMCA in the Twin Cities to take action.

“Because we know that we have a health and wellness epidemic with our children,” YMCA district director Mike Lavin said.

Lavin is leading the Y’s new youth sports effort. In response to that drop in youth sports participation, the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities is completely overhauling its programs.

“I think the YMCA traditionally in the past has been known for ‘everybody wins, everybody gets a ribbon,'” Lavin said. “We’re taking a more structured approach going forward.”

It all begins later this month, when the Y will begin offering a slate of new sports programs, which will have a seasonal focus: basketball in the winter, soccer in the spring, track and field in the summer and flag football in the fall.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

This will go across all 21 of its Greater Twin Cities locations, which Lavin said is a big step up from their current, rather sporadic, offerings.

“This is far more intentional,” he said.

Kids as young as three and as old as eighth grade can sign up for classes. League play will be available for grades two through eight.

“We understand that there are kids in the community that are playing these sports right now, but it’s a very small percentage,” Lavin said. “And we want to see more kids engaged and living that healthy lifestyle.”

The biggest key is that the Y is trying to remove the barriers that keep many kids from playing. That means lower costs and a focus on fun, instead of the high-stakes approach now prevalent in youth sports.

“I think there’s a lot of choices out in our communities for sports, and there’s a reason why people are not choosing those activities,” Lavin said. “And I think the YMCA is looking at a different way of approaching it, to make sure that it’s affordable, safe and fun for all kids to participate.”

The new classes and leagues launch on Jan. 18, and registration is now open. The Y also plans to rotate other programs in as well, such as martial arts and floor hockey. It will offer swimming year round — and not just the lessons it is known for but team competition as well.

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