How to Cure the Dropout Rate in Youth Sports
By Chris McConnell
Over 70% of youth athletes drop out of sports before they enter high school. The reasons according to the kids themselves: Too much pressure to win, poor coaching, being forced to “choose” and specialize in a single sport at too early of an age, too expensive for parents, team/club politics, etc. While all of these are legitimate reasons to not want to play a sport anymore, they all contribute to a larger reason why young athletes drop out of sports: playing the sport is no longer FUN for the child.
A child's enjoyment of any activity is the most motivating factor for a child. It sounds cliché, but a sport has to be fun in order for children to enjoy playing it. It is the anticipation of having fun while playing a sport that motivates a child to begin and maintaining this enjoyment that leads to long-term player development and involvement in any sport.
But first, why is participation in sports so important for kids? Children who play youth sports have higher grades and greater involvement in volunteer work than those who don't. They have greater confidence, self-esteem, and build stronger relationships with their peers. Young athletes also have greater family attachment, more frequent interactions with parents, and are less likely to engage in risky behaviors.
Knowing these benefits and understanding the reasons why children drop out of youth sports is helpful but not entirely useful. The real question we should be asking is, “How do we KEEP kids involved in youth sports?” Not just through high school and college, but into adulthood as well?
It starts with a quality coach; a coach who not only is licensed by a nationally-recognized organization in the sport, but who is also a positive, encouraging role model. Being a strong role model is even more important for coaches in girls’ sports since girls are twice as likely to drop out by the age 14 than boys. A good coach can see the big picture for a child's athletic development and is not someone who is solely focused on going undefeated in an 8-year-old Rec league. He or she is someone who understands that a well-run practice is a hundred times more valuable to a player's development than a bunch of out-of-state tournaments, all of which are added expenses for parents. The number one priority of any youth coach should be player development, not winning. The key to creating this type of environment, one that nurtures a young athlete's development, is parent education.
Educating parents about what their child is learning on the field and why is crucial to building a solid relationship between the coach, the parent, and the player. It helps everyone involved to understand what the long-term goals are for the child athlete. Once the coach takes the “win at all cost” philosophy out of the equation and informs the parents of this, then we finally start to create a learning environment where children can enjoy playing the game without outside interference or distractions. The risk of having a child specialize in one sport at too early of an age goes away because a quality coach knows that the best thing for a child athlete's development is to encourage them to play other sports. Abby Wambach credits her success on the soccer field to her days playing basketball in high school.
Whether kids are playing a sport for long-term player development or are just looking for a way to spend time on the field with their friends, the game has to be fun. A good coach can create a fun environment while building confidence and teaching the benefits of hard work, sportsmanship, and teamwork, which will all benefit a young athlete and helpfoster a genuine love for the game.
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Coach Chris McConnell has 10 years of experience (over 600+ on-field hours) coaching Youth Soccer (ages 5-17; Recreational, Travel, and High School). He currently possesses his USSF Provisional C Coaching License and NY State High School Temporary Coaching License. For more opportunities to train with Coach Chris, check out wnysoccerassist.com.