Why Do They Quit? Five Ways To Keep Kids Playing Sports

I love having kids who play sports. I love slogging across muddy fields on Saturday mornings, hot coffee in one hand and an umbrella in the other. I love the daisy-pickers and the goal-scorers. It’s fun for the kids and it’s fun for me (most of the time). So I was alarmed to find out that 70% of youth athletes quit playing sports—all sports—by age 13. That’s BEFORE HIGH SCHOOL, before sports get truly competitive.

What worries me most about this trend is that a sedentary lifestyle is a contributor to obesity—and obesity-related diseases are the leading cause of death in this country.  And the benefits of sports go beyond the obvious health-related ones: there are studies that have found youth athletes have higher grades, lower rates of depression, and less drug use than non-athletes. Additionally, there are many lessons we hope our children will learn through participation in sports, including teamwork, tenacity, resilience, sportsmanship, time management, and how to take coaching just to name a few.

Why Do Kids Quit Sports?

If sports are so beneficial, why are kids quitting? The top reasons kids give for quitting are losing interest (#1) and not having fun (#2).  Other common reasons are because sports take too much time (#3) and they want a non-sport activity (#6) or need more time for studying (#8) and because there was too much pressure (#5) or an over-emphasis on winning (#11).  In other words, more kids would stay involved if they could balance sports with other interests, have fun while playing and play for the love of the game, with less pressure and less emphasis on the outcome.

How Can We Keep Kids Playing Sports?

So, what can we, as parents, do to keep our kids participating throughout their childhood and adolescence?

  1. Make sure it’s fun – If running through the parent “tunnel” or chanting silly cheers in the dugout is what keeps it fun, then make sure to encourage those things.  Sports get serious soon enough.
  2. Be flexible – Let your child choose the sport (not you!) and let her change her mind! Remember, this is not a lifelong decision and being flexible may just let your child find ‘her thing’. Stick to the rule of thumb: commit to a season, not to a career.
  3. Allow your child to play at the level he chooses – Just because ‘everyone’ else is playing Class I soccer or is on a travel baseball team, that doesn’t mean it’s right for every child. “Rec” is not a failure!
  4. Help your child understand why you want her to play – Make sure she knows it’s not about the sport per se, but rather it is about learning perseverance, teamwork, sportsmanship, making friends, having fun, and being healthy.
  5. Stay positive! – No matter what happens, make sure to avoid making negative statements about your child’s coaches, the refs, other players, or your own child’s performance. This will help him stay motivated and excited about playing.

Most importantly, remember that we, as parents, are the most important influence in our children’s athletic lives. Coaches, teammates and seasons come and go, but our influence as parents is ongoing and powerful.

 

Ann DeWitt has a Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Certified Parent Educator. She is an enthusiastic recreational soccer player and coach and can be found most weekends on the sidelines or in the stands with her husband, cheering on their two kids.

Responses...

Keith Rispin  

Good Post!

We are coming to this critically important time in our first daughters sporting career. She is still playing and looks like she will continue into high school BUT there is certainly outside pressures and physical pressures that are pushing her to stop.

Social drama is one. Members of her peer group as starting to fall away from sport in exchange for hanging out at the mall. For some reason it looks like an attractive alternative to my daughter.

She is also at a stage in physical development where her knees are giving her some trouble so she is sometimes side lined for recovery purposes.

It is a slippery slope for a non sporting life is easy and so many kids default to easy without a little push. It is up the parent to make sure the kids does not make the “easy” choice.

Ann DeWitt  

Keith,

Yes, I certainly wouldn’t be excited to have my child give up sports in order to hang out at the mall. “Idle hands” and all that. It can be a hard balance to strike between having enough free time and having so much that kids are bored or get into trouble.

We’ve had a really good experience this year with my 8th grade son playing rec soccer. All the serious soccer players went to classic and the boys who are playing rec are having a GREAT time! There are some kids who are new to the sport, some who are really athletic but their favorite sport is something other than soccer and some who are playing just because their friends are. They win some and lose some and take it all in stride. It is a joy to watch because they are all enjoying themselves and no one takes it too seriously.

I’m impressed that you’re teaching your children that the easiest path is often not the most rewarding in the long term. Kudos to you!

Ken  

Ann,

My daughter and I went through this exact same thing you discussed in your article.

She played on a championship soccer team at the state level and about three months before the race to the cup the next year she wanted to take a break. A tough decision but she was firm about it and willing to take the consequences. So she joined a climbing team and 5 months later was invited to attend speed climbing finals at Nationals, in Atlanta, instead. Obviously she is the type of person that is driven to a high level of performance. This is true in school as well as extracuricular activites. When I asked her why she quit a sport she so obviously loved and excelled at, she said she wasn’t having fun. After a summer of climbing in the Cascades and the start of a new fall season of team boldering competition, she said she was tired of competition and being judged.

She still trains 3 days a week, 3 hours a night with the climbing team but doesn’t appear to be interested in competitions or outside validation and more medals. Instead, as an 8th grader she is focusing on school and recently got a new puppy and joined 4-H, rather than traveling year round in the high pressure competitive soccer or climbing circuit.

So what does it all mean? I don’t know. I know as a parent, I went through more changes than she did. She is certianly happier and has found a niche of people outside of school that are more grounded (no pun intended) and feels a part of the climbing community that is match for her personality.

Will she ever go back to soccer? I don’t know. Her older sister asked her if she regretted her decision. Her answer was simply “no”. So to all the parents and coaches out there, when these things happen to our children, the sky may not be falling and there is apparently still hope for us. I mean really, she is only 13 years old.

Ann DeWitt  

Ken,

Your post certainly sounds familiar. My brother was (well, is) wired like your daughter. He excels at almost everything he tries but the joy for him comes in learning something new (and getting really good at it). Have you read Tom Rath’s Strengths Finder 2.0? (well worth the time to read) There is a strength in there called “Learner” which sounds like your daughter.

I am not really disappointed when a child decides to move from one activity to another. “Variety is the spice of life” is a cliche for a reason. I love that she is successful in school, a team sport, an individual sport, and probably other areas you didn’t mention. The kids I regret quitting are those who just fell out of sports–the ones who quit sports and now hang out at the convenience store or play video games all afternoon.

I hear an undertone in your post that I really like. As much as we sometimes fear for our kids and their future, it is far more powerful and enjoyable to parent from a place of love instead.

All my best to you and your family,
Ann

Michelle Muller  

Great words of advice. I want my kids to stay active. Thanks for the information. Always thinking of you guys.

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