My mind went through all the reasons this might be happening: burnout, other interests, team dynamics, I was too hard on her, the gamut. What could it be?
If you are a parent or a coach, I believe it is critical that we have a good understanding of why kids play, and why they quit. It is also crucial that we have open lines of communication with our athletes, so we can spot some of the red flags and right the ship before it’s too late.
I believe there are five main reasons kids walk away from sports, and they all boil down to one common denominator: they cause kids to have a poor state of mind when it comes to sports. I hope you will look at each one of these scenarios and ask yourself “Is this my child?” If the answer is yes, then it is never too late to act and make a change.
If your young athletes are not having fun, they will eventually walk away, regardless of talent or how good their team or coach is. Adults rarely do voluntary activities such as exercise or community service work that they do not derive enjoyment from. Why do we think our kids will?
Solution: Your athletes are never too old, or too talented, to answer the question “Are you enjoying yourself out there?” Ask it! Chances are, the more they enjoy themselves, the better they play, the more they play, and the harder they will work. Michael Jordan had a “love of the game” clause in his professional basketball contracts, allowing him to play pickup whenever he wanted to, because he enjoyed playing so much. And if it stops being fun, you need to figure out a way to make it fun, or before you know it, early retirement!
If you find yourself saying “we struck out 10 batters” or “we scored 3 goals” you have not allowed your child to own the experience. If you find yourself coaching your child on every play from the sideline, and telling him to “shoot,” “dribble” or “pass” instead of letting him make his own decisions, you are not helping! You are stealing ownership of the experience from your child, and in the process sucking out the enjoyment. Would it be helpful to have your boss stand over your shoulder and critique everything you do at work? No? Then why do we think it helps our young athletes?
Our overemphasis on winning at younger ages is creating an all-star culture in elementary school sports that no longer allows children to develop at their own pace. When coaches focus solely on wins and losses, and only play the kids who will help the team win today, coaches drive so many kids out of sports who in the long run would ultimately be better players. If Major League Manager Mike Matheny could find playing time at all positions for his youth baseball team, you can too.
Kids tell us that one of the main reasons they quit is because they are afraid to make mistakes, because they get criticized, yelled at, benched, and more. Great players develop in environments where they do not fear mistakes, where they are encouraged to try and fail, and they are made to understand that failure is a necessary part of the development process. Coaches and parents who keep a running commentary going on the sideline, second guessing every decision and action players take, and yelling at players for trying their best and failing, create a culture of fear that drives players out of the game.