When we first imagine having children we are full of hope. We are going to procreate beautiful, empathic, successful, smart and athletic prodigies. We enroll them in soccer or ballet or karate, hoping that by providing them with exposure and opportunities:
- they will find their talent and enjoy themselves;
- that it will bring out the best in them.
We are hoping they will learn how to be part of a team, how to prepare and perform, how to have fun even when they lose, and for those with visions of a future professional, how to be a ruthless competitor on the field.
But something unfortunate happens.
By age13, 70% of children drop out of team sports.
Many children just can’t keep up with the demands of the “elite” teams that now have become the focus of the adults around them.
Somewhere in the last 25 years, sports have shifted from being a great way for kids to socialize to becoming a parent driven avenue for college scholarships, despite the odds which are heavily weighted against them. In this process of monetizing sports, we are shortchanging children from the real value of these athletic pursuits:
- competing in a healthy way,
- an excellent source of working out aggressive strivings in a structured format, with rules, limits, and consequences,
- all while having fun.
Ironically, while parents are trying to out-do one another with their children’s achievements and travel team schedules, the children are not having fun at all. “A researcher asked 150 kids to list things that they found fun about organized sports. They came up with 81 items. Winning was #48,” reports Bob Collins in 2015.
Other things that did not make the top of the list included tournaments. What did hit the top of the chart as important to kids was the quality of the team dynamics, having a place to try hard, positive coaching and learning.
And the top reason why children quit sports? They’re not having fun.
This is particularly unfortunate as many successful individuals credit experiences with childhood sports as contributing to their success. It’s where they learned to prioritize, prepare, work hard, compete, lose and win graciously, work with people with different ideas and agendas, and test the limits of their abilities.
They also credit childhood sports with developing their love of movement in their adult lives.
What’s notably interesting, according to Prim Piripipat, a former D1 tennis star and later an ESPN anchor, is that many former or current professional athletes drop their children off at practice and then disappear. They do not micromanage or see their child’s growth and performance as their responsibility. They leave that to the coach. (Watch my full interview with Prim here.)