Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Why kids quit sports: a question of cost-benefit analysis

with 4 comments

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Quitters never win? Dr. John obviously never played youth football.

The conventional wisdom is that by age 13, kids are quitting youth sports in droves. Maybe a little beforehand, maybe at that age, but 13 is the Berlin Wall of youth sports, scaled only by those who can avoid the Checkpoint Charlies of lousy coaches, crazy parents and any predisposition to being a spazz.

A lot of people see such a mass decline as a national scandal, such as whomever handles the Web site for NHL’s Colorado Avalanche. “According to a Michigan State University study, over 70% of kids quit sports by age 13,” it says on the Avalanche Cares youth sports and parenting site. “For professional sports, that is the equivalent of losing one potential Michael Jordan or Mike Modano a week. In addition, there is no way of knowing the impact on the talent pool of business leaders and other professions where continued sports participation helps develop critical life skills.”

I don’t see it that way. I don’t believe Barack Obama’s plan to turn around the economy rests on whether some 11-year-old is pissed off at his basketball coach, nor do I believe the Michael Jordans and Mike Modanos being lost — believe me, the recruiting apparatus is sophisticated enough that someone with that level of talent has an agent by age 7.

I’m also not of the mind of another theory, that kids quit because they’re spoiled brats who can’t handle life outside the everybody-gets-a-trophy bubble.

I think it goes like this: kids do a basic cost-benefit analysis of whether a sport is worth their time. They take into account their own interest, their likelihood of advancing to higher competition (I don’t mean pro or college — it’s even whether they think they might someday make the junior high team), their enjoyment of the atmosphere surrounding the sport, and the overall time the activity takes.

The first item is the most important in the cost-benefit analysis. If a child is truly interested in a sport, he or she will stick with it no matter what the competition, the dickish coach, the insane parents or the 10 hours a week of practice. If a child is not, the rest of that stuff will suddenly start mattering.

This factors into the question of whether you should allow your child to quit a sport. I’m a believer that once you start a season, you should finish it. You’ve made the commitment, after all. But I’ve never forced my children into a specific sport because, in my own cost-benefit analysis, it’s a pain in the ass and a waste of time for me to shuffle kids to play sports they don’t like, that I then have to sit and watch them not enjoy. I’ve got four kids. I don’t have time for this.

Written by rkcookjr

September 15, 2009 at 5:54 pm

Posted in parenting, Sports

Tagged with , , , ,

4 Responses

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  1. Bob, I totally agree. I played a lot of competitive sports when I was a kid: basketball, baseball, volleyball, hockey, swimming, soccer…

    I enjoyed all of them, but none of them stuck except running. For that, I was willing to endure early bedtimes, pain and stiffness, long practices, 6 a.m. mornings, etc.

    My sisters, on the other hand, never found a sport that clicked. What’s your take on parental involvement in “forcing” kids to get some activity? If they don’t find one sport that works, what’s a parent to do?

    Katie Drummond

    September 15, 2009 at 7:15 pm

  2. Thanks for your comment, Katie. I don’t have a problem with parents forcing kids to pick an activity — my wife and I do that. However, we’ll talk with the kids and see what they’re interested in, whether it’s a sport, or chess club, or horseback riding, or pottery class, or something. Usually kids are amenable to doing something, and there’s nothing wrong if a sport or activity doesn’t click. To me, part of childhood is trying out a lot of things to see what you like.

    A lot of parents get hung up having their child in an organized sport, but if the child isn’t into it, it’s a waste of time for everyone. There are always other ways to get exercise, and sometimes better ways, beyond organized sports. By the way, some parents have a phobia about video games, but I don’t have a problem with them, because they actually can help a child choose. For example, my 6-year-old is an avid real-life bowler thanks to how much he loved bowling on Wii Sports.

    Bob Cook

    September 15, 2009 at 9:14 pm

  3. I agree with most of the post but Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team before making the commitment to become the greatest BB player ever. We need a balance where we can have “competitive” tracks most kids will follow and “fun leagues” where other kids can continue to test out sports and possibly cross over at some point. The all about winning approach shuts out the marginal kid in the current system before they have a chance to develop a love for the sport in many cases.


    September 16, 2009 at 12:27 am

  4. First a correction: Michael Jordan wasn’t cut. He was, as a sophomore, put on junior varsity, as most sophs are.

    I would agree, though, that having separate tracks works well for kids. In some way, the marketplace is already deciding that, with club sports almost completely taking over for high schools sports (except football) for anyone with college or pro aspirations. The unfortunate thing is that in many areas, the track on casual league play ends with junior high school.

    This study from Canada posits the problem is not that kids quit sports in droves by age 13. It’s that kids often try out a sport for a year or two, and quit, but as their age group gets older there aren’t enough new players to replace those who quit. It sounds like semantics, but the thought is that kids don’t necessarily quit because they’re disgusted and discouraged, but do so at young ages because they try out one sport and move to another, leaving being a self-selected group of adherents and fewer kids trying out new sports as they get older:

    Bob Cook

    September 16, 2009 at 1:32 pm

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