Why do kids leave sport?

youth sports

As a parent and as a professional youth sports coach my main aim with my own children and anyone I coach is to ensure that they want to play sport from juniors right through their teen years and into adulthood.

As yet, there is no research in Australia, (I am saving that for my PHD) to do with the number of kids who leave sport annually and their reasons – but I am sure our system would mirror the American research that was conducted in 2014.  The stats are terrible and they show that 3 out of 4 kids will leave sport by the time they are 13. Just looking at the numbers in my middle sons team mirror this and now they are in U14’s.  They have just enough players to field one team – very different to the numbers in their earlier age group. In neighbouring clubs, their numbers are so low that clubs are amalgamating – so why do we continue with this system when it is clearly not doing what youth sport should.

An America researcher Amanda Visek and her team undertook to define fun in youth sport.  They wanted to see why kids play sport. They listed 81 characteristics of fun and asked children to list what they saw as the most fun in their sport and their reason for playing. Interestingly winning as a reason came in at no 48, playing in tournaments came in at no 63 and getting trophies and medals came in at no 67. So what this does show is that winning as a reason for playing is not a priority for  of kids – meaning it must therefore be a preoccupation of adults and not the kids.

From the research – The top 6 most important characteristics of fun were:

  1. Trying your best
  2. When the coach treats players with respect
  3. Getting playing time
  4. Playing well together as a team
  5. Getting along with teammates
  6. Being active

I believe one of the biggest problems with youth sport is that the coaches/parents use adult values on the kids. Kids really are not mini adults and should not be treated as such. Adult fitness testing techniques should not be used on young kids. This season my youngest is in the U10’s we have just got into the horrors of grading – independent judges and a whole heap of un necessary angst for the kids and for some the process with totally turn them off. I would like to do an experiment and give them the same list of 81 characteristics used in the American study – for those who list winning in the top 5 reasons for playing – they can go into a team and for the rest split them randomly taking friendships etc into account. I believe the return rate for next season would be much higher.

There is a very interesting blog looking into why video games  are so appealing to kids.  Video games are always asking what they can do to get the kids to play more – so how often do coaches get feedback from their kids? I have put the link below so you can read the whole blog, but here are the reasons kids would rather play video games than play sport –

  • Video games put the kids in control, while in youth sports the adults take over.
  • Video games are action packed 100% of the time and inclusive of all participants (especially their friends), while organized sports have huge numbers of kids sitting on the bench or standing in line and not participating. Throw in the push to form “select” teams and younger and younger ages and there go their friends too.
  • Video games allow kids to create their own reality based upon their values and motivations, while youth sports today attempts to impose adult values and priorities upon them.
  • Video games allow children to experiment and fail without fear of criticism and critiques, while youth sports rarely allow such space, especially in the “competitive” arena

(Changing the Game Project).

I hear stories everyday from parents who’s kids have quit a sport due to unfairness of grading, nepotism, poor coaching styles and adults losing sight of their reason for being there.  Even without research, judging by the numbers who drop out of youth sports locally shows the way it is currently being conducted is not working for those for whom it is there for – the kids.

On a positive note my 16 year old is still playing turf hockey – hockey seems to have a much better system. My son plays in a team he has now been with since junior school and they all play for fun. The coach has been excellent – coaching whilst not forgetting the reason they are there – for fun!  For those in hockey who want to compete at a high level, there are trials for all sorts of comps. Within my sons team they have some who are state players who keep playing with them in their social team – because they just enjoy it.


Visek, Amanda J. et al., “Fun Integration Theory: Towards Sustaining Children and Adolescents Sport Participation,” Journal of Physical Activity & Health, 2014.


One comment

  1. Excellent post and one that I will share. We need to encourage and support our children in whatever activity they choose to do. We need this activity to be enjoyed and sustainable through out their lives.

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