Why do kids quit sports?

When I discuss this topic with folks, I’m often referred to ‘research’ that pins blame on things like toxic sidelines, pressure to win and bad coaching.

I’m treated as a heretic to suggest that quitting sports is natural and our goal shouldn’t necessarily be to reduce the attrition rate.

While I’ve seen my fair share of toxicity (and probably contributed to some), I am skeptical that improving on those will reduce attrition, though I am all for improving on those.

I addressed that topic a few years ago here.

I believe kids quit sports because they’re just not that into it and have interests they are more into.

I’ll add that I am skeptical of the validity of research. In the business world, I’ve too often seen similar market research that tries to identify reasons customers switch brands. I’ve watched too many managers lose their jobs building initiatives around those findings to find out fixing those reasons didn’t move the needle on customer behavior.

When a former player identifies reasons like toxic sidelines for quitting the sport, the obvious follow-up question is, “If toxic sidelines were eliminated, would you keep playing?”

Most say no, which means that wasn’t the real reason.

How do you inspire love for the soccer?

I don’t know. Do you?

If so, please share.

I discussed this recently with another coach.

He told me something that I used to believe strongly, too: part of the club and coach’s responsibility is to develop interest in the sport.

I still believe that. But, my experience tells me that club and coach is a tiny part of that process for most kids.

Early on I thought sparking an interest would be easy. There were times I thought I was onto something, but the raised interest seemed to revert to the mean of barely interested after a short time.

Too often, unexpectedly, I found that teaching kids the fundamentals was counterproductive to sparking an interest. I discovered some kids loved the unstructured chasing of the ball and the game lost its magic for them as they learned there was some method to the madness and they were expected to learn it if they wanted to continue to play.

I also noticed that kids from soccer households seemed to like soccer more than those that didn’t. Pulisic and Sargent are great examples. It’s obvious that both were much more strongly influenced by coming from households where both parents had played at relatively high-levels than by their club experiences. Has either even mentioned an influential youth coach?

Few kids, maybe 10%, not from a soccer family developed a true interest in the sport. Some liked the activity, but not enough to do anything on their own. Others simply didn’t like it and quit as soon as their parents let them.

That’s why I like Tom Byer’s book, Soccer Starts at Home. He’s onto something that we overlook about all sports: a good deal of interest level and skill acquisition occurs starting at age 1 or 2 and is a product of the environment and activities that engage the young kids in their home.

We believe kids ‘get coordinated’ between ages 7 and 10 and can suddenly throw baseballs with pinpoint accuracy, for example. But what really happens is that many kids have been playing catch with all sorts of things since they could walk and we overlook how instrumental those 6-7 years of unstructured development were.

Go some place where kids don’t grow up playing catch and watch an otherwise coordinated and athletic adult try to throw a baseball for the first time and they look as coordinated and accurate doing that as a typical American 5-year-old.

If the goal is to grow soccer and improve the men’s players at the top level in the U.S, I think there’s a 10x better chance starting with the route Tom has identified rather than what we currently have.

The system we currently have rewards participation, rather than progress, and keeps kids doing the activity of soccer (rather than developing as soccer players) long past what their interest and ability level would warrant in other sports.

How many 14-year-old competitive basketball players are there who never played pickup basketball or shot on their driveway or park hoop for hours on end? Probably not many, unless they are tall and can block shots.

How many 14-year-old competitive soccer players do we have who have never played pickup soccer or shot on a backyard or park goal for hours on end? Too many. Maybe most.

Who is responsible for developing a soccer player?

One problem with the participation culture of soccer in the US is that too many parents and players hand the keys of development over to clubs and coaches.

Clubs and coaches don’t do much to dissuade that idea, because it’s a selling point.

Contrast that with clubs in soccer countries, where the player owns their own development and they see the club as a place to showcase their ability, compete to get better and maybe get some helpful guidance from coaches along the way.

How differently do players in these two environments behave? Exactly how Kephern Fuller described on a 3Four3 podcast that I wrote about here.

Fuller has experience in American and European soccer clubs and here’s how I summarized the astute observations he shared in that podcast:

He said a key difference is the players knowing where they’re going. American kids don’t have a good sense of this. They are content to say they’re the best on the team and their team has had some success, but they don’t have a sense beyond that of what good soccer looks like or what kind of player they are working to become.

He said, European kids have a much clearer picture of what they want to become. This shows up in the effort they put in on and off the field and how seriously they take and compete within a drills during training.

That’s because European kids own their development, while American kids let development be something that happens to them.

It’s okay for kids to quit soccer

A few weeks into one season, the parent comes to me and says, “Sorry, we’re done.”

“Why?”

“You told him to practice for 10-15 minutes a day with the ball. For 3 weeks, I asked if he practiced like coach asked. Every time the answer was no. 10-15 minutes a day isn’t too much to ask. If he’s not going to follow through on his end, not even once, that tells me he doesn’t want to play”

Respect.

Most parents won’t make that call.

Pro/rel is the cause, not the effect

Saw on Twitter:

This is like saying that before we allow competitors to McDonald’s, we must have viable competitors to McDonald’s in every inch of the U.S.

In other words, nonsense. Ed has cause and effect backwards, putting the cart before the horse.

The infrastructure Ed desires results from a system that incentivizes it, not from hoping it happens while preventing the incentives that results in it.

The best way to get competition to McDonald’s is to allow it to happen by opening the system to let competitors emerge. Some of those have resulted in large chains like Burger King, Wendy’s, Chili’s and Red Robin, and a plethora of local joints.