Why Are 73% Of Kids Quitting Sports By Age 13?

When we moved to New York from California, my oldest child had just finished 9th grade. He was coming to a new high school and had his fears about fitting in and creating a life for himself in a place where everything was different. My husband and I worried quietly about how it might be for him and hoped that he would make new friends by joining the soccer team at his new school.

He had made varsity as a freshman in California, so we figured he would do pretty well here. When try outs came around in August, we were thrilled to learn that he had made it.

We had only been in the state for a couple weeks at that time and didn’t know a soul. We had planned a family trip to Aruba months before we left California. We knew the move would be tough on everyone and thought that having this pre-back-to-school trip to look forward to might ease some of the stress and sadness of leaving family and friends in California.

But guess what happened? As soon as the list came out, the coach announced that soccer practice would be starting immediately and that every player must be at every practice or risk being kicked off the team. This was a full three weeks before classes began–still summertime as far as I was concerned.

Mind you, the plane tickets had been bought, the reservations had been made and we had been looking forward to this trip together for many months. It was the light at the end of the tunnel.

Was I a little P.O’d? Yes indeed. And I tried talking to the coach and explaining our situation but my pleas fell on deaf ears. My son must be there or else.

Does this story sound familiar? How about this one? My other son played on a team with a coach who informed a teammate’s mother that if she allowed her son to miss an upcoming game in order to attend his brother’s Bar Mitzvah, he could not start in the next three games.

Or this one: during the spring of my son’s junior year, College Night came around. The school counseling department puts it on as an introduction to the whole college admission process. It’s a very important evening for parents and students and college admissions officers are often present to give first-hand advice about what they are looking for and how to go about applying. A big deal, right?

Well, on this particular evening, there was also a varsity lacrosse practice scheduled. The coaches had said nothing about players being excused to go to College Night and many of the boys feared repercussions if they left practice to go. I emailed the coach that morning and said that I KNEW there must have been an oversight about the time conflict and was certain that he would make sure that the juniors were excused in plenty of time to get showered and in their seats before the program began.

Basically, I felt like I had to shame him into this. He sheepishly agreed to do so (what could he say? It was a high school team) but only two of the juniors came. The others were concerned about what might happen later if they left early.

The sad thing is, I could go on and on with stories just like this for hours. Stories about how other families have been cowed into giving up vacations, dinner time, important visits or celebrations with grandparents or other family members, too.

Many of these coaches and athletic programs pay lip service to their favorite false slogan, “Family comes first,” but their actions tell a very different story. And, to be honest, it’s not just the coaches. There are plenty of parents out there who have made their kid’s participation in youth sports something akin to the search for the holy grail — an all-consuming passion that overrides chores, the family budget, family meals, family time, community service, down time, homework, and sleep.

Given all of that, it’s not too surprising that the National Alliance for Youth Sports has recently announced that kids are dropping out of sports at an unprecedented and alarming level. By age 13, a whopping 73% are throwing in the towel for good. But why?

Well, a large percentage of the children interviewed say that having practice every day and games every weekend, coupled with the intense pressure they feel from coaches and parents to win, causes too much stress and not enough time for anything else. It’s not fun and, they say, not worth it. Basically they get burned out and fed up and miss having a life. And who can blame them?

Too bad, though, because participation on a team can give a lot to a child — exercise, the chance to be a part of a team, and a feeling of connection to his school or community. This assumes, of course, that the coach harbors no grand illusions that he is the next Bill Walsh or Knute Rockne. We need more guys out there like Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights. He knows how to find the balance even when you’re talking high school football in Texas!

Most of you moms are not in this boat yet. But the truth is, it sneaks up on you fast. One minute you’re trying to get your child to put on her shin guards all by herself and the next you’re listening to the coach call for four practices a week smack dab in the middle of dinnertime.

It’s easy to feel like you have no right to set limits in the face of pressure from overly competitive coaches and parents. But you absolutely do and I’m hoping that this little rant of mine will help get you motivated to take action once you get there. Keep your eyes open for some concrete, specific suggestions on what you can do in an upcoming Mama To Mama post. We’ll see what we can do to help you keep it semi-sane.

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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2 responses to “Why Are 732 Of Kids Quitting Sports By Age 13?”

  1. Rachel Zahn

    An interesting postscript … at my daughter’s high school kids are starting to protest the over-reaching athletic culture by resigning from teams they were star players on. Hope this gives coaches and administrators a much needed wake-up call!

  2. Karate Arlington TX

    I had no idea of these issues. Thanks for the article. Do you have an RSS feed?

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