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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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.