Why do youth sports players end up quitting their sport before they have a chance to reach their potential?
In this Washington Post article, according to a poll from the National Alliance for Youth Sports, around 70 percent of kids in the United States stop playing organized sports by the age of 13 because “it’s just not fun anymore.”
I truly believe that this is a question that every coach and parent thinks about. However, there is never a real answer. Also I don’t think the answer is ever going to be clear because every child’s situation is different and due to the amount of factors that are involved, the situations can be complex. But what we do have are some clues as to why young athletes lose motivation to continue pursuing their athletic goals.
In general, I believe that it should be a mission of not only the parents or the coaches but of all societies to promote a healthy lives through sports. That is why this is an important topic that should be discussed among parents, coaches and even persons of influence.
So why do kids quit sports so early?
Michigan State’s Institute for the Study of Youth Sport conducted an informative study to find the answer to why kids quit sports so early? To find the answer, they ask both boys and girls what are some reasons that they decided to quit their youth sport. Below are the top 10 answers:
I was no longer interested.
It was no longer fun.
The sport took too much time
The coach played favorites.
The coach was a poor teacher.
I was tired of playing.
There was too much emphasis on winning.
I wanted to participate in other non-sport activity.
I needed more time to study.
There was too much pressure.
Just from a simple observation of these answers we see that the pressure that is placed on kids to succeed is the main reason that they quit sports. Kids are simply not enjoying their sport to begin with because it was never aimed for them to joy it.
This is because at a certain age youth athletics turns on a competition not just between teams but between teammates on the same team. This is not something that is simply handled by kids rather. Kids on the same team are competing for playing time. Their competing for admiration from their coach as well as from their parents.
Instead of focusing on developing skills, enjoying your time playing sport as well as learning how to play with your teammates , the child is forced to focus on winning, beating the other team and even out performing their teammates.
Unfortunately this is the system that youth sports is raising our children in and although competition can be healthy, we need to realize that there are some serious affects that it can have on our kids' enjoyment of the sport.
So what is so wrong with focusing on winning?
The problem with winning is that there are only two options, winning or losing. You either win or lose. And because the difference between winning and losing is so thin, the pressure on the child is increased dramatically. Not all children are made to handle that pressure and I don't they should attempt to.
It is not rare for the child to feel unloved and feel disapproved after losing. The result is the child pins the love from their parents against losing or winning, the result is nearly unbearable pressure. Although usually this is fictional imagination from the child, but regardless, it is real to them. The parent will never even be aware of this and will not even realize that this is the reason the child quit their sport.
The focus on winning makes the athlete self-conscious. There is too much at stake if they lose. They stop focusing on enjoying, learning and improving. Believe it or not, they even stop focusing on winning, they only thing they focus on is not losing and not looking bad.
The result is that they start blaming others. They start pointing fingers on their teammates, their coach or even the ref. Not only does the athlete stop enjoying their sport but they start hating any form of competition.
The focus on winning makes the child only focus on winning as well. That is the only way that the child will survive in this system. They cannot come to a game with the intention to enjoy or to learn if the coach, parents, and teammates all have the only aim to win. As a result, they are forced to focus on winning.
In this type of system, winning becomes the number one priority. If you win, you gain the much needed love from your parents, coach and teammates. However, if you lose, you lose the love of all those that really matter to you. As mentioned before this may not be true at all. As a parent, you may do everything you can to make sure your child knows they are loved and they are cared for regardless of winning or losing. But once they enter the system, they are immediately fuelled by the desire to win or rather the fear of losing.
In this system, the child quickly forgets to enjoy the sport and focuses only on winning.
Blaming someone else is a way to avoid looking bad. By putting the blame on someone else you make yourself look better.
What is there to do about it?
Well, reading Carol Dweck's book, 'Mindset', give us the realization that what we focus on really influences whether we focus on "winning" or "growing".
Although a complex topic, Carol makes it simply clear that we take one of two mindsets that determine how outlook on effort. The fixed mindset looks down upon effort because it states that you are either talent or your are not. In other words, it is either you have what it takes to win or you do not. And if you are putting in effort, it means that you clearly do not have what it takes. And if you don't have what it takes, you might as well give up because you will never have it regardless of the effort that you put.
On the other side, there is the growth mindset, where the focus is on the incremental improvements that one can take through their own effort or work. The emphasize is on the growth rather than the end result. Below is a great picture that showcases the difference between Growth Mindset and Fixed Mindset.
When it comes to our children and especially youth sports, we have the power to influence which mindset we promote. The first thing we have to apply the growth mindset to ourselves, then the coach, the sport and then our children will be able to adopt the growth mindset. If this is done properly, not only will the child start to enjoy the sport, they will carry the growth mindset into their future. Here are some of the benefits that come with the growth mindset:
- focusing on learning and growing
- long term focus
- focus on enjoyment
- working together
- taking responsibility
- full engagement
- more confidence
As parents, coaches and organizations, we need to shift our focus from the result, to the process. The game is won in the process. Winning is learning, it is improving. If you are improving everyday and you are learning new skills, working on your weaknesses and improving your strengths, then you are winning.
If we bring this focus to youth sports, our children will automatically adopt the growth mindset. It doesn't take a lot of effort to switch from the focus on winning to the focus on growing and learning. It starts with disregarding the win or lose and asking the child every game what they have learned or improved on.
Those are our thoughts combined with a bit of research on why kids quit their youth sports. I hope this was informative and gave you some ideas on how to keep your kids healthy and playing sports for many years to come. But more importantly on how to teach your kids to mature in healthy and confidence adults. If you have any comments or questions, please put them below and we'll happily reply.