Funded on September 1, 2023

Participating in organized sports has been shown to promote positive social development, contribute to positive youth development, and increase social emotional learning amongst adolescents. The skills acquired through sports participation have potential life course implications and may give adolescents the skills they need to successfully navigate challenges not only during this developmental period, but also later in life. However, according to recent estimates, four in ten US children ages 6-17 are not participating in any sports programs and the vast majority of these children are from minoritized racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds.

The lack of adequate out of school time activities is also associated with increased likelihood of law enforcement contact and involvement with the criminal legal system. Involvement with the criminal legal system has been shown to negatively impact the mental and physical health of adolescents and is also associated with worse overall health across the life course. There is a dearth of literature exploring how the positive social-emotional skills developed through youth sports participation can contribute to positive youth development and reduce the number of youth-police interactions.

This study leverages a natural experiment, the elimination of youth sports fees in the city of St. Paul, to analyze the population health impacts of increased youth participation with a specific focus on youth-police interactions. This policy has increased access to recreational sport participation-an exposure that has been shown to positively impact socioemotional development, physical health, and academic achievement–to youth who could not previously afford to participate. By removing the financial barrier to entry, this program offers youth from historically underserved population the opportunity to engage in activities that contribute to positive youth development and also mitigate the likelihood of adverse law enforcement contacts.