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