In this article on Changing the Game Project (dot com), an organization trying to breathe sanity back into youth sports, the author goes over some reasons why kids quit sports and things that can be done to help.
As a youth coach, I’ve had some parents forward this article to me when they disagreed with my coaching.
Here is a snippet from the article:
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.
We don’t simply lose the kids who cannot make varsity; we lose many of the best athletes on our teams.
One problem is that the author, John O’Sullivan, doesn’t quantify how much these other factors contribute to the dropout rate or how many of the best athletes quit.
Basic math tells us that the vast majority of kids who dropout are the kids that cannot make varsity. If only the top 20% of kids make the varsity team, that means 80% don’t. If only the top 5% of the high school athletes make a college team, 95% don’t.
In my experience, around ages 11 – 14 kids come to one of a few reality checks.
They may realize that even being average in a sport takes work they aren’t willing to put in, because they simply don’t enjoy the sport enough or they’d rather be doing something else with that time.
Or, they come to understand the odds of them becoming a college or pro players is really low.
Even some of the ‘best’ quit, because they might be at the bottom of the top 20%. They’re better than 80%, but they don’t get a lot of play time, so they decide that getting a job to earn some money is more worth it than riding the bench. That’s basic opportunity cost.
I appreciate O’Sullivan’s efforts to want to take adult toxicity out of youth sports. That’s a worthy effort that doesn’t need to be tied to improving the dropout rate.
There’s nothing wrong with a 70% sports dropout rate by age 13. I bet that has been consistent for decades (and possibly has decreased as there are more ‘competitive’ sports clubs out there that provide alternatives to high school sports) and it tracks the winnowing of the field to make the cut for high school, college and pro.
If efforts to keep kids playing sports longer work, it may have some ill consequences — mainly, keeping kids from doing other things that may be more worth their while.