Not so long ago, there was growing alarm that a majority of kids were quitting sports by the age of 13. In an era haunted by epidemics in childhood obesity, diabetes, depression, and anxiety, experts warned kids needed healthy outlets such as team sports more than ever.
Alas, a new study has shaved another two years off that figure, with kids today now quitting youth sports by age 11. Just as alarming, the average child only plays for three years before quitting.
According to the National Youth Sport Survey, commissioned by the Aspen Institute’s Project Play initiative, the top reason kids quit remains the same today as it was a few years ago: they’re not having fun. Reasons for this unhappiness are many, including hyper-competitive coaches and parental pressure.
How do we make sports for kids and less about the professional model? The professional model is cool, but you don’t give kids a college textbook when they’re in kindergarten.
Cost is another issue, particularly for poorer families who simply cannot afford the growing price tag of many youth sports.
A brief glimpse at the chart below shows just how much the average American is spending on sports for their kids each year, with travel costs gobbling up a growing share of expenses.
Another concern is the growing ‘professionalization’ of youth sports, with many kids being forced into specializing in a single sport at younger and younger ages. Pediatricians, child development experts, and even collegiate and professional coaches have warned against this disturbing trend, which can lead to serious medical problems and, not surprisingly, burnout in the kids.
It should be noted that many kids are pushed to specialize by parents and youth coaches, who believe these kids have a better chance at securing an athletic scholarship or even going pro. Ironically, some studies have shown these kids have less of a chance precisely because they’re limiting their bodies’ development (these kids also feel enormous pressure to succeed – a key predictor of unhappiness in a sport).
Experts say that kids will continue to abandon sports until adults recognize that at the end of the day, youth sports is about having fun and being active – not securing a spot on an NFL or NBA roster.
“People forget the true purpose of sports for kids is a developmental experience to help each kid fall in love with the physical activity, become healthy, learn some things about themselves,” says Dan Gould, director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University.
Adds Gould: “How do we make sports for kids and less about the professional model? The professional model is cool, but you don’t give kids a college textbook when they’re in kindergarten.”