Why Kids Quit Sports: Reversing the Trend

It’s amazing to think about. 35 million kids between the ages of 4-14 play sports. 35 million kids are kicking a soccer ball, dribbling a basketball, or hitting a tennis ball each year. While that seems like an incredible number of young people participating in sports, the reality is that 70% of them will quit by the time they’re 13 years old. (data from "Why Kids Quit Sports" by Dan Peterson)

A 2004 study done by the Youth Sports Institute at Michigan State listed some of the reasons why kids are quitting sports. Let’s look at four of the reasons, and discuss some ways we may be able to reverse the trend.

1) They’re no longer interested, or sports are no longer fun. I learned quickly after one season of soccer that my 5 year old daughter was not into sports. Her teammates would be kicking the ball around and there she was, daydreaming of being a ballerina. That’s okay! My daughter tried soccer, and found out it wasn’t for her. But let’s look at another angle: are young people quitting sports because they’re really not interested, or is there another factor at play? If a child has been relegated to playing only one sport from an early age and is spending a lot of time in that one sport, he/she can become burned out quickly. Parents, make sure that your child has the opportunity to experience numerous activities including multiple sports and non-sport activities so they can better gauge what they truly enjoy and so the risk of early burnout doesn’t occur.

2) Their coach was a poor teacher. Few things are as frustrating as a parent as watching your excited son/daughter play on a team with an inadequate coach. It’s important for a coach to not only have knowledge of the game, but to be able to dispense that knowledge in a manner that their team can understand it an apply it. Bill McCartney, former college football coach at Colorado once said “all coaching is, is taking a player where he can’t take himself.” Your child’s coach should be someone willing to help your son/daughter get to a level they can’t get to themselves. They must be able to teach young people how to play the game, and how to play it well.

3) There was too much pressure, or too much emphasis on winning. The funny thing about youth sports is the imbalance of priorities between a player and their coach. Often times winning is the most important thing to the coach, but players could care less. It’s not that they don’t want to win, it’s just that winning takes a backseat to having fun doing something they love with their friends. Because so many parents (and coaches) push a child into specializing in a sport early on, they feel tremendous pressure to perform to a certain standard. That works if you’re a college student on scholarship, but not if you’re an 8 year old that enjoys playing baseball. The emphasis should be on two things: helping the young athlete improve in the sport, and helping the young athlete to have fun while doing it.

4) The sport took too much time. Young people have a variety of interests, so funneling their time into one bucket isn’t very appealing. This goes back to sports specialization: if you force a child into playing only one sport, not only do you hinder their overall development, you steal time from other things they could be doing. Every child needs to experience multiple sports and multiple activities. They need time to complete any and all school work and studying for classes. Every sport too needs an offseason. Chances are better that a child will not quit playing sports if their time isn’t consumed with playing them.