My mind went through all the reasons this might be happening: burnout, other interests, team dynamics, I was too hard on her, the gamut. What could it be?
It’s my dad. He loves me and I know he only wants the best for me, but he just can’t stop coaching me, in the car, and from the sideline each and every game. I can’t play when he is around, and he insists on coming to every game, every road trip, you name it. It’s like it’s more important to him than it is to me.”
Sadly, Kate’s story is a common one. It is a tale about well-intentioned parents whom want nothing but the best for their children. They love their kids; they just don’t always love them in a helpful way.
As I have stated here many times, 70% of children are dropping out of organized sports by the age of 13. Whenever I mention this sad statistic, people come out of the wood work saying that it’s only the kids who aren’t good enough to play that quit. They say it’s an age where school, jobs and other interests take precedence. These things are true and contribute to a part of the dropout rate, but they are not the entire picture.
Sadly, in our current state of youth sports, kids and families are asked to do more and more at younger and younger ages, especially the kids who show early aptitude in a sport. Many of these athletes, our most dedicated and talented ones, burnout and drop out as well.
If you are a parent or a coach, I believe it is critical that we have a good understanding of why kids play, and why they quit. It is also crucial that we have open lines of communication with our athletes, so we can spot some of the red flags and right the ship before it’s too late.
I believe there are five main reasons kids walk away from sports, and they all boil down to one common denominator: they cause kids to have a poor state of mind when it comes to sports. I hope you will look at each one of these scenarios and ask yourself “Is this my child?” If the answer is yes, then it is never too late to act and make a change.
If kids are on a team, and they never get to play meaningful minutes or get pulled out after any mistake, they are going to quit! Kids want to play. Kids need to play. It matters little to them how good their team is, or how famous their coach is, if they never get in and contribute to the team. A study by the Josephean Institute found that 90% of children would rather PLAY on a losing team then SIT THE BENCH on a winning team.
Our overemphasis on winning at younger ages is creating an all-star culture in elementary school sports that no longer allows children to develop at their own pace. When coaches focus solely on wins and losses, and only play the kids who will help the team win today, coaches drive so many kids out of sports who in the long run would ultimately be better players. If Major League Manager Mike Matheny could find playing time at all positions for his youth baseball team, you can too.
Solution: Coaches, if you pick them, you need to play them, especially at the youngest age groups. And parents, if your child is on a team but never plays meaningful minutes despite coming to all practices and games, ask your child if they are unhappy. If they are, find another team when your commitment is over. The college and professional sports world is full of athletes who were not star players at age 11; many of them were even on the dreaded “B” team. But they got to play, and as a result, they developed athletically, and grew to love the game. No youth trophy is worth not playing.
Kids tell us that one of the main reasons they quit is because they are afraid to make mistakes, because they get criticized, yelled at, benched, and more. Great players develop in environments where they do not fear mistakes, where they are encouraged to try and fail, and they are made to understand that failure is a necessary part of the development process. Coaches and parents who keep a running commentary going on the sideline, second guessing every decision and action players take, and yelling at players for trying their best and failing, create a culture of fear that drives players out of the game.