Why Are Kids Quitting Sports?

Sports are often cited for the positive role they play in a child’s physical, social, emotional, and mental well-being. If sports have such a positive impact, why are so many kids quitting sports?

5 Reasons Kids Are Quitting Sports

1. Overemphasis on Winning:

Research suggests that an excessive focus on winning in youth sports leads to burnout and decreased enjoyment for many children who play sports. According to a study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics, children who perceive excessive pressure to win are more likely to drop out of sports.

Adults don’t typically enjoy excessive pressure, so why would kids? Coaches and parents play a crucial role in the creation of a positive and supportive youth sports environment. If you start pressuring them to win, they will be less likely to stick with sports. Though you mean well and want them to be successful at anything they do, you’re actually pushing them away from sports when you start focusing on the score more than fun. 

2. Specialization at a Young Age:

The trend of early sports specialization has been linked to a higher risk of overuse injuries and a lower likelihood of long-term athletic success. The American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine reports that early specialization can lead to physical and psychological stress on young athletes. Athletes who specialize in a single sport at an early age are up to 93% more likely to be injured than their multi-sport peers. Encouraging kids to explore various sports and activities can improve their overall love of sports and reduce the risk of injury and desire to quit.

3. Lack of Inclusivity:

Research from the Aspen Institute’s Project Play highlights the importance of creating inclusive environments in youth sports. Kids are more likely to continue participating when they feel a sense of belonging and inclusion. Addressing issues such as unequal playing time and lack of representation can create a more positive and supportive atmosphere for all participants. Being aware of these issues concerning inclusivity is the first step toward changing the narrative. 

We have the power to change youth sports programs to be more inclusive to all who wish to participate. Here are just a couple ways club, school, and recreational sport teams can work towards a more inclusive environment:

      • Promote a more diverse variety of coaches including more female coaches
      • Increase access to sport for kids across all communities
      • Promote equal playing time for all kids

Coaches can have an impact on inclusivity as well. At a young age, it’s more about the opportunity to play than starting your star players every play. The more kids you can get in the game, the more likely they will stick with sports as long as they can. As a coach, if you can keep more kids playing sports, you’re way more successful than the coach who wins some pee-wee level trophies by only playing the star players.

4. Parental Pressure:

It has been well-documented that parents play a crucial role in a child’s sports experience, but sometimes the pressure can become overwhelming. A study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that parental pressure is a significant factor in children quitting sports. Encouraging parents to focus on their child’s enjoyment, progress, and effort rather than solely on outcomes can help create a healthier sports environment.

It’s important to remember youth sports is not meant to be a way into college or professional sports, it’s meant to develop your child’s gross motor skills and athletic fundamentals as they learn important characteristics and personal skills such as teamwork and sportsmanship. Youth sports should be seen as a hobby for your kids to stay active and have fun. If that hobby becomes something they love, and something they want to take to the next level as they get older, that’s awesome! But pushing them into that choice, will not make them stick with the sport long term like you hope.

5. Technology and Sedentary Lifestyles:

The rise of technology and sedentary lifestyles has been identified as a contributing factor to the decline in youth sports participation. According to the Physical Activity Council, the allure of screens and electronic devices can compete with traditional sports activities. To counter this trend, promoting the benefits of physical activity and the unique experiences offered by sports participation are essential.

As a parent, consider limiting screen time and encouraging physical activity. You could implement “screen timeouts” and encourage kids to be more active during those times. 

Focus on the Long Term

Keeping kids in sports needs a holistic approach that includes coaches, parents, and all youth sports organizations. The goal should be to keep kids playing as long as we can whether it be recreationally or at more elite levels. In order to foster that long term desire to play, we have to change the perspective of youth sports and look at the impacts of a winning-first mentality from both parents and coaches. Introducing this type of mentality too young will continue to push kids away from sports overall. By emphasizing skill development, fostering inclusivity, and creating a fun and supportive environment, we can keep kids in sports longer!

Pre-teen boy with blond hair in a bright green and blue i9 Sports jersey and flag football flags with both arms in the air celebrating the last play during an i9 Sports flag football game.