Playing sports offer numerous benefits for kids. They help develop physical skills, provide exercise, create friendships, and teach teamwork, to name a few.
Yet by age 13, 70% of kids will drop out of youth sports. It’s a sad statistic that only gets worse. The top 3 reasons given are adults, coaches, and parents.
When did we stop making sports fun?
I had the opportunity this week to see a presentation by Jennifer Best, MS Ed., Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, about children and sports. She highlighted these statistics and illustrated why we’re approaching sports with kids the wrong way.
Here are 3 big things we’re doing wrong:
1. We make sports too competitive
Studies show that 90% of young men would rather play on a losing team that allows them field time or court time, than a winning team that puts them on the bench. In today’s sports, however, you have to be good to play. For kids under age 10, the focus should be on cooperation and development of interest in lifelong leisure activities, not competition and winning. And let’s face it, when kids don’t play, they don’t get the benefits of sports.
Solution: Seek out sports organizations that offer everyone a chance to enjoy the benefits of the activity.
2. We tolerate bad behavior
“I hope you aren’t proud of yourself, because you shouldn’t be.” This was a real example given during the presentation I saw of a comment made to a child. While there are plenty of great coaches, parents, and kids who would never make such a damaging comment, there are also organizations that do on a regular basis. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t tolerate someone talking this way to your child off the field or court, don’t tolerate it in a sports setting either.
Solution: If your child is being verbally abused, take it up with the organization. If it isn’t resolved satisfactorily, find a new activity. The psychological damage isn’t worth it.
3. We encourage specialization too early
Specialization is important, because otherwise your child will never be a pro football player, right? And scholarships will be nonexistent! Consider this: 99.8% of students will NOT go on to be professional athletes. That means for most of us, sports are about physical activity, teamwork, and friendships—not about a future career.
What’s the downside of specialization? In children, whose bodies aren’t developed yet, it leads to overuse injuries. There are 9 million youth sports-related injuries every year. Half of those injuries are caused by overuse—repetitive stress without time to heal. And 40% of youth sports injuries require surgery.
Young children should be exposed to a wide variety of activities to avoid these injuries, which as many people know, can continue to affect you into adulthood. Additionally, trying many different activities will help kids find what they’re good at. Having success in something early on builds confidence, and makes success later in life in other things more likely. It’s the psychological theory that “success breeds success.”
Solution: Encourage your kids to try different activities. Stop stressing about whether they’ll be “good enough” for financial benefits later in life.