Another year behind us and the statistics regarding children’s participation in sports continue to take a grim turn: namely, downward. By age 13, a staggering 70 percent of kids bail out on organized sports – a troubling trend for a number of reasons.
Why are so many kids saying good-bye to sports? Depending on the source, there are a number of reasons, foremost among them:
No Longer Fun
Anyone who has played organized sports knows that with each passing year the competition becomes more intense. For many kids – especially those who aren’t athletically gifted or are slower to physically mature – the writing is often on the wall, particularly in our results-oriented culture: They won’t be good enough to make the high school team, so what’s the point?
Coaches who don’t know what they’re doing, are over-zealous, play favorites, etc., routinely rank among the top reasons kids – and their parents, for that matter – say ‘no mas’ to sports.
The rapid growth in youth clubs has resulted in a loss of the ‘pick-up’ culture that once dominated urban and suburban landscapes. Kids today are far more likely to be shuttled from gym to gym, tournament to tournament, and forego the local fields and basketball courts. The result: a rapid escalation in costs (club dues, uniforms, fees, etc.) that are beyond the reach of many families.
To some degree this ties in with the ‘no fun’ argument, but with a twist: often times the kids still enjoy the sport, but parents, coaches, and our culture at-large place so much pressure on results that kids become anxious and stressed-out.
Is there any good news in all of this? Yes, and no. On the bright side, many kids who bail out on team sports ultimately migrate toward activities that are better suited to their physicality and disposition (think hiking, biking, jogging), etc. Additionally, many kids (including this author) who are poor at youth sports complete their physical maturation by their late-teens and find a new home in adult sports leagues.
On the downside, many kids don’t ever re-engage with sports and, as a result, are at greater risk of health problems. They also lose out on many of the pluses that naturally come from sports participation: stronger leadership and networking skills, improved academic performance, better relationships, etc.
What to do if you’re a concerned parent? For starters, considering volunteering your time. Even as an assistant coach, for example, you can bring levity into practices and games and help offset more over-zealous type coaches, demonstrating to kids that sports can remain fun. At a minimum, choose your coaches wisely and don’t be afraid to sound off to a league if you feel the need.
Find a youth club that offers House sports that aren’t as competitive. They do exist, you just need to look a bit.
Encourage your child to take up activities that are right for them. We are blessed in this nation to be home to a bewildering array of athletic and outdoor (and indoor) activities. Test-drive different sports until you find the right one.
The key, as the Nike slogan so famously states, is to “just do it.” Or more to the point, just do something.
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