Keep sports fun
Posted by Dean Holden at June 24th, 2014
by Mark Hyman, 11 October 2013
If anything exposes a serious problem in youth sports, it’s this statistic:
According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, participation in organized team sports peaks at age 11. After that, the percentage of kids playing on at least one team drifts downward.
Imagine if Wal-Mart found that shoppers were walking out of stores and vowing never to come back. That situation would not be allowed to continue. The next day, the company executives would be mobilizing to figure out how they had alienated their customers and what to do about it. Shouldn’t we be taking the exodus from youth sports just as seriously?
We know why kids play sports. The question has been asked before. In 2010, Peter Barston, a teenager from Darien, Conn., polled youth players in his hometown and spoke to me about his research project for an article that appeared in The New York Times. Peter canvassed players in baseball, football and basketball leagues. He spoke with boys and girls from fourth through eighth grade. In every category, the top reason cited for participating in sports was fun.
Peter’s survey of more than 700 youth players was an informal project, but it confirmed more substantial research. In 1989, scientists at Michigan State asked 28,000 boys and girls around the country, why do you play sports? The top answer then also was “fun.” Next came “to do something I’m good at.”
We know why kids drop out of youth sports, too. They’re not having fun anymore. They’re weary of the pressure. They’re tired of being yelled at by coaches and, sometimes, by their parents. The most talented players sometimes are forced to quit because they’ve been playing competitively for so long that they’re hurt – half of reported youth sports injuries are caused by simple overuse. Many adults are supportive, of course. But those for whom winning is the most important thing can unravel a child’s devotion to a team and a sport quickly.
So many of the big lessons from playing sports aren’t about sports at all. They’re about growing up – making new friends, developing self-esteem, learning to be a reliable teammate. It’s a shame that more kids aren’t sticking around to learn about them.
Mark Hyman is an assistant professor at George Washington University. He is the author of three books about youth sports including “Until It Hurts: America’s Obsession With Youth Sports and How It Harms Our Kids.”