Earlier this month I came across a column published by the Washington Post where the author explained her thoughts on a startling statistic. According to a poll from the National Alliance for Youth Sports, around 70 percent of kids in the United States stop playing organized sports by the age of 13. Along with its findings, NAYS stated the reason for this exodus having to do with the fact that “it’s just not fun anymore.”
In her column in the Washington Post, Julianna W. Miner shared her thoughts on why she believes this reasoning to be true: Sports aren’t designed to be fun anymore, our culture no longer supports older kids playing for the fun of it, there is a clear push for kids to specialize, there is a cost to being competitive, and “it’s just the age.”
I can agree that 13 is a weird age. We are at our most vulnerable and most influential. Even at the high school level it’s noticeable that our peers influence our decisions from whether to go to class, to take AP or honors level academic courses or try out for a sports team.
The idea of needing to specialize influenced almost all of Miner’s points. When I was in middle school and high school, the biggest reason for teammates quitting was the simple fact that they were burnt out. They weren’t playing for the love of the game anymore. The feeling of needing to specialize is crazy these days. Kids from a young age are taught that if they want to be the best soccer player in the world, then all their focus needs to be on soccer.
The need to specialize and be the best, when we can’t all be the best, creates a negative environment around sports. It’s an environment that we need to actively work to remove. Participating in other sports and other activities can be helpful. Basketball can teach soccer players better ball movement since it’s a smaller playing area. Track can teach athletes how to run properly as well as build speed and endurance. Dedication and practice can come in multiple ways, and sometimes getting involved in other activities can help people discover that they have been chasing the wrong passion.
The LeBron James’ and Lionel Messis of the world show us that if we dedicate our time and work hard that we have the potential to be the best. But at the same time they teach us that we need to love it. The love for whatever it is that we do is what makes all the work we put in worthwhile. Even if you don’t become the next Tom Brady, your love for football doesn’t change.
Where I feel Miner missed the mark are her thoughts on competition. Growing up I had one of those dads who was not about that participation trophy life. If he had to pay for it, I wasn’t getting one. I grew up when the idea of participation trophies came to life, and they are now in full swing.
I believe being awarded for participation is one of the reasons kids are quitting. They don’t understand the idea of competition. It’s not that things have gotten too competitive. We are setting athletes up for failure if we teach them from their first season that everyone gets rewarded.
If the kid who scored the most goals and the kid who scored no goals get the same reward at the end of the season, what is that teaching the kid who scored no goals about hard work? How are we preparing them for not making the school team? It’s these kids who are hanging up their jerseys when the going gets tough.
Sports not only offer the start of a healthy lifestyle, it provides kids with life skills. From day one participants learn teamwork and dedication. They experience success and see what got them there. They experience failure and learn that it will only make them stronger.
I’m not sure why 70 percent of 13-year-olds are saying so long to sports but we need to find a way to change it.
To read Miner’s column visit, washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2016/06/01/why-70-percent-of-kids-quit-sports-by-age-13.