In recent years, research has shown that children are leaving sports too early. According to a study done by the Aspen Institute, children quit playing sports by age 11 (on average). The increased number of children quitting sports at such an early age is contributing to the epidemic of physical inactivity. The epidemic has been getting increasingly worse over the past 30 years in the U.S. and is dubbed as a global public health problem by the World Health Organization.
Physical inactivity can lead to a wide range of health problems, such as:
- Obesity and overweight problems during childhood and into adulthood
- Cardiovascular disease
For kids, playing sports is one of the best ways to have fun and stay physically active. But what’s the problem? What are the reasons behind our children’s decisions to quit sports altogether?
- Not Getting Playing Time
If a child is on a team but never gets a chance to play meaningful minutes, then the child is going to quit. The same goes for kids who get pulled out of the game after even the slightest mistake. Kids need and want to play, and it means a lot to them, not how famous their coach is or how good their team is. Parents and coaches who overemphasize winning at young ages are creating a negative culture that doesn’t allow kids to develop at their own natural pace. When coaches only let the best players play to catch a win, they drive many children out of sports – many of whom may be late bloomers.
- It’s Not Fun Anymore
According to a 2014 study, youth athletes were asked why they play sports, and the majority answered that they played sports because it was fun. Youth athletes have fun when they are getting playing time, when being treated respectfully by teammates, parents, and coaches, and when they are trying their best. In the study, practicing with private trainers, playing tournaments, and winning weren’t included as characteristics of having fun.
- Feeling Disrespected
Encouragement and respect are the traits of a great coach. Nobody likes to be disrespected by friends, family, colleagues, or even strangers. However, kids often get disrespected when making a mistake, such as missing a shot or making a bad pass. In that case, leaving sports is inevitable because a disrespectful coach can damage young athletes’ confidence.
- Not Owning the Experience
Children don’t want their every move to be scrutinized or criticized by adults. It leads to loss of ownership of their experience, so they leave sports and pursue their other interests. If you were wondering why many kids like playing video games for so long, it’s because there’s no one standing there, criticizing their every move. Good coaching doesn’t take away children’s autonomy – kids should be allowed to make their own decisions. Otherwise, the enjoyment gets sucked out of sports.
- Being Afraid to Make Mistakes
One of the main reasons that kids quit sports is because they get benched, yelled at, or criticized when they make mistakes. Players cannot develop in an environment where they fear mistakes and where they aren’t encouraged to try and fail. Failure is an important part of the entire development process. Parents and coaches who second-guess every action or decision players take or shout comments on the sideline create a culture that makes young players decide to step out of the game.
To become skillful and proficient, it takes years of practice. Coaches and parents shouldn’t expect young athletes to make the perfect decision and action every time or not to make mistakes. Otherwise, poor treatment and taking the fun out of it will make more and more kids get out of sports, contributing to the epidemic of physical inactivity in sports.