Childhood Studies Sports and Childhoods in the United States
Samantha White
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 August 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0280


Children’s experiences and representations in informal and formal sporting spaces reveal how power, inequality, agency, socialization, and consumption shape their relationship to athletics and physical culture. Even though children make up the vast majority of sports participants in the United States, their experiences often remain overlooked in scholarly fields. This bibliography offers a corrective to this gap by highlighting multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary works that examine children and youth’s participation in sports. Childhood and youth emerge as malleable age categories that occasionally overlap. Some of these studies examine early sport experiences in childhood while others examine athletic adolescences. Ultimately, this bibliography is concerned with examining and amplifying research that centers on young people’s experiences in sports. These works examine scholarly approaches to the study of sport within and across fields such as history, sociology, media studies, and literary studies. For this purpose of this bibliography, I will highlight published materials that examine organized sports, informal pick-up games, and physical activities that occur in schools, community organizations, and other public and private settings. Additionally, this bibliography addresses children’s participation in sports across various spheres—as athletes as well as consumers of sports media. When studying childhood and sport in the United States, careful attention must be paid to avoid the universalizing of their experiences. This article is attuned to scholarship that traces the athletic inclusion and exclusion of girls, girls of color, youth of color, LGBTQ youth, and youth with disabilities.

General Overview

The growing field of childhood and youth sport studies engages with a variety of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary perspectives. Anthologies such as Youth Culture and Sport (Giardina and Donnelly 2008) and Child’s Play: Sport in Kids’ Worlds (Messner and Musto 2016) provide a comprehensive look at various scholarly conversations about children, youth, and sport. From media studies to ethnographic work, these texts establish the study of sport as one bolstered by different methodological approaches. Other anthologies such as Youth Sport and Spirituality: Catholic Perspectives (Kelly 2015) focus on the intersection between religion and athletics. Messner 2009 and Dorsch, et al. 2022 analyze not just young athletes, but also their interactions with peers, parents, and coaches. Finally, Gould 2019 traces changes and transformations in contemporary youth sports.

  • Dorsch, Travis E., Alan L. Smith, Jordan A. Blazo, et al. “Toward an Integrated Understanding of the Youth Sport System.” Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport 93.1 (2022): 105–119.

    DOI: 10.1080/02701367.2020.1810847

    The youth sports system put forth by the authors traces an ecological model that attends to various factors that shape children and youth’s lives. The model posits that youth sports are shaped by familial, environmental, and team subsystems. Additionally, the authors argue that more attention must be paid to the ways that these subsystems operate as interconnected parts of a youth sport model.

  • Giardina, Michael D., and Michele K. Donnelly. Youth Culture and Sport: Identity, Power, and Politics. New York: Routledge, 2008.

    Across ten chapters, this book examines critical youth sport perspectives in North America. This book primarily focuses on sport in the United States although there are a few chapters about the role of youth athletics in Canada. The book utilizes a thematic approach to address topics such as politics, adventure sports, racialized youth in sports, sports films, and organizations such as Little League Baseball.

  • Gould, Daniel. “The Current Youth Sport Landscape: Identifying Critical Research Issues.” Kinesiology Review 8.3 (2019): 150–161.

    DOI: 10.1123/kr.2019-0034

    In this article, Gould maps out changes in youth sport as well as current issues in the field. Gould argues that in the last forty years, youth sport has been affected by the following changes: professionalization, more media exposure, economic investment, an increase in youth sport injuries, mental health concerns, and a growing gulf in access to youth sports, and the growth in the commercialization of youth sports.

  • Kelly, Patrick. Youth Sport and Spirituality: Catholic Perspectives. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2015.

    This edited collection includes chapters from academics from a variety of different disciplines as well as practitioners who work directly with Catholic youth organizations. This work does provide a connection to youth sports and religion—an important relationship considering the role of youth sport organizations such as the YWCA, YMCA, Catholic Youth Organization, and Young Hebrew Association.

  • Messner, Michael. It’s All for the Kids: Gender, Families, and Youth Sports. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1525/9780520943452

    In this book, Messner delves into the organization of youth sports with a particular focus on gender roles in youth sports. Primarily drawn from fieldwork in South Pasadena, California, Messner uses interviews and participants observations to capture a gendered system of youth sports that includes children to adult coaches and managers.

  • Messner, Michael A., and Michela Musto. Child’s Play: Sport in Kids’ Worlds. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2016.

    This anthology primarily focuses on the sociology of youth sport. Across eleven chapters, this chapter examines themes such as youth participation rates, the experiences of youth of color in sports, sports and consumption, transgender and gender non-conforming youth, and the spatial experiences of youth in locker rooms, physical education, and gymnasiums.

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