It may sound counterintuitive, but organized youth sports are contributing to childhood obesity.

It used to be that the neighborhood kids would just assemble after breakfast, or after school, and start in on whatever physical activity they were going to do. Whether it was football, a game of pickle, or a bike ride exploring the neighborhood, there was no cost to entry.

You went outside, joined in, and off you went.

But now that parents have organized their kid’s time, and paid so much to do so, kids aren’t just heading outside to play.

Now sports is highly organized. Even at three and four years of age, kids are signed up to play soccer leagues or attend practice. They’ve got schedules. Places to be.

There’s nothing spontaneous about sports and play anymore. Parents feel they need to get a start on organized sports as they become more and more competitive. And while this doesn’t necessarily hurt the naturally athletically-inclined (both mentally and physically inclined, that is…), it creates a barrier for those who’ve been traditionally picked last.

Kids who might have otherwise been out there with friends playing sports or just engaging in physical activity, no longer have the opportunities that existed years ago. There’s less free backyard play, and more pay-to-play, organized sports.

And this doesn’t just negatively effect the less athletically inclined kids. It also impacts those who can’t afford to play. With the growth in for profit youth sports, poorer kids are also left behind.

Not to mention the massive rise in video game participation, thanks, in part, to all of those parents who’ve substituted parenting with an iPad, kids now have a lazy alternative with a much lower barrier to entry – sit in front of the monitor and play video games… for hours and hours.

Physical activity is so important to not only physical health, but mental health, as well. And thanks to organized sports, and all of the adults making money off these kids, parents, and families, we’re actually hurting many of the kids who should be participating.

And I would be remiss in not mentioning that this all goes back to soccer. It was soccer that made the massive, concerted push to organize and make money off families. What’s more diabolical is that because it just involves running after and kicking a ball, any kid who can walk can play it.

While kids have to wait a bit until their strong and/or coordinated enough to shoot a basketball or hit a baseball, any kid can kick a ball.

And too many parents are willing to pay someone for their kid’s right to kick that ball.

It’s time to tear down the fences, open up the backyards, and get the kids out there again. Take the adults out of it, and let our kids run around. We’ll all be better off for it.