Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Posts Tagged ‘varsity

A new look at kids quitting sports

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You’ve heard the stat thrown around many times — three-quarters (or something like that) of kids quit organized sports by the time they’re 13. Often, this number is presented as some sort of en masse protest against the overcompetitiveness of youth sports, a mark of its failure to develop players’ skills and love of the game.

A Canadian study says that’s only sort of true. It’s not exactly peer-reviewed, but numbers examined by the youth registration software company ITSportsConnector make for some interesting grist for the youth sports participation mill.

The study, looking at 1.7 million registration records for youth soccer clubs, notes that “teenagers don’t quit; they just stop being attracted.” Meaning, many young soccer players try the sport for a year, then quit. At younger ages, there are enough new players to replace those who have moved on. But as players get older, and the barrier to entry become higher, there aren’t enough new players to replace those who have quit the sport.

Looking at the following chart, there is some decline in returning players as they move through the teenage years. But the real falloff is among new players.


From ITSportsConnector:

Conjecture is that there is no good path for new teenage recruits into a sport where the length of playing time has a significant impact on short term skill level.  Unfortunately, bypassing this group leaves out late bloomers or converts from other sports. This result, consistent with observations that sports silos develop over time, indicates the barriers to entering a different sport are too high to overcome.  To engage teenage prospects, more of the marketing effort will have to target this age group and fast track a development program, focusing on short term competency for late joiners.

The misconception that teenagers lose interest in sports comes from looking only at total player counts that give the false impression of a significant down turn after age 12. This can cause the misalignment of programs and funding that misses the point. …

More study is required to verify these findings, within a multi-sport context, and to determine the causes behind these results. The irony of this situation is that the involvement in sporting activity is commonly seen to have its greatest value in the teenage years, combating both anti-social activity and sedentary lifestyles for adolescents.

The study is intriguing. It seems to posit that it’s not that kids are discouraged in sports in general by age 13. It’s that they might become discouraged, or at least sick of, a particular sport. But the way the youth sports world is set up, there are few opportunities for someone who is 12 or 13 or older to pick up a new sport, even on a rec league level. So they don’t play at all.

I’m not sure how or who won run the short-term sessions for late joiners that this study talks about, but it’s an interesting idea. Or another idea, which I’ve pounded home, is expanding rec and intramural opportunities for kids interesting in playing a sport and having a life.

Brian McCormick at The Crossover Movement, where I saw a link to this study, used it to restate his desire (in basketball) to create an Elite Development League for serious high school players, and leave school sports for, well, students. I’ll let McCormick speak:

If players now do not try a new sport in high school because of the intimidation factor, if you remove the “superstar players” and make the high school leagues more like Division III college athletics and less like Division I athletics, more opportunities open for players who otherwise would not play high school basketball.

I also believe that one mission of youth development programs should be to offer leagues for players cut from high school teams, especially freshmen. If freshmen had another competitive outlet during the high school season, more players would stay involved in the sport and players would have a better chance to make a team after being cut.

As it stands, in some districts, if you do not make the 7th grade team, you should find a new sport. The 8th grade coach picks almost the same team as the 7th grade coach because the players “know the system” and these kids feed into the high school, where the high school coach believes that the kids from the 8th grade team are the better players. Isn’t 7th grade a little young to decide who should and should not ultimately play varsity basketball? But, if there is no other outlet for those players cut from their teams in 7th grade or 9th grade, how can they improve their skills and game awareness at a higher rate than those who made the team? While the difference between two players may be very, very slight in 7th grade, the kid who makes the team, practices every day, plays in 20-30 games, etc. will have a big advantage over the player cut from the team who does not get the practices, games or repetitions (not to mention the affect on the players’ confidence).

So, how can we recruit more high school kids to basketball, rather than cutting more players? Who should develop these supplemental programs? School districts? Parks & Recreation? If we really want to use organized sports to combat childhood obesity, shouldn’t the goal of youth sports be to include as many players as possible, not to eliminate players as quickly as possible?

Schools abandoning sports, part II

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In Mark Hyman’s “Until It Hurts,” (already reviewed here), there’s an interesting bit of comment about parents and private interests taking over competitive sports when schools seemed less committed to them.

As I read it, I was thinking about all the discussions about statewide cuts in high school sports schedules and other pullbacks from varsity sports occurring during the current recession, in an environment where private interests like AAU and clubs are already siphoning away the elite athletes.

Except that Hyman was writing about the 1930s.

But it wasn’t the Depression and ensuring school sports cutbacks that gave private interests like American Legion Junior League baseball (born in 1926) and Pop Warner Football (born in 1929 as the Junior Football Conference) an opening to exploit. It was educators’ distaste for how competitive school sports was becoming. They decided it would be better to de-emphasize varsity sports in favor of intramurals — an idea I’ve proferred on a few occasions on this here blog.

Hyman approvingly quotes sports historian and coaching teacher Rainer Martens calling this decision a “gigantic blunder.”

“Ironically, educators suddenly found themselves no longer leading the movement they had begun. Instead of well-trained professionals guiding the sports programs of children, well-meaning but untrained volunteers assumed leadership roles. Sadly, educators were left on the sidelines shouting their unheeded warnings and criticisms,” writes Martens in his seminal (June 1978) book Joy and Sadness in Children’s Sports.

Of course, as schools got back on the sports train, overemphasis on winning was (and is) endemic there, too. But schools at least have to hold their players to academic and other eligibility standards, and limits on practices and games allow for more balanced lives and less potential for overuse injuries than hard-core club sports.

So do these cutbacks mean private organizations will get an even greater foothold on youth sports?

It’s tough to say right now — plenty of private organizations are noting declines in players or upturns in requests for financial assistance because of the current recession.

But the bigger, longer-term danger for schools that want to be taken seriously as a place for sports is that their cutbacks highlight how anyone wanting a scholarship or pro career should seek assistance elsewhere.

As a school cuts back music, would its top musicians not seek opportunities elsewhere? As a school cuts back theater, would not anyone dreaming of an actor career not seek opportunities elsewhere? If a school cuts back on academic programs, doesn’t it risk losing students to private schools or home-schooling?

I don’t have empirical numbers to prove that any of these trends hold. It just seems logical to me that if you’re already diffident about whether the high school soccer team is worth your time, especially when college coaches (as they do in Hyman’s book) make it clear all they scout is club soccer, it’s one more reason to leave varsity sports in favor of private programs.

Is this another gigantic blunder?

I don’t think so. As Hyman wrote, this cat already was let out of the bag in the 1930s. And anyone seeking elite play is already trained from an early age to look outside of school — to programs that, depending on their funding, might have better-trained coaches than the school can offer.

It might be time for schools to look at athletics as something more akin to intramurals — to find ways to get more students involved, both to help with the national obesity rate but also to give an outlet for kids who are never going to play travel ball. Again, we heed the words of Colorado football coach Dan Hawkins: “Go play intramurals, brother.”

And this little piggie stayed home

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The Your Kid’s Not Going Pro emergency alert center reports the following athletic cancellations as a result of H1N1 — oh, forget it, you’re all gonna call it swine flu no matter what authorities say. (NOTE: I am adding to this list and alphabetizing by state rather than creating new posts every team a school or organization cancels sports.)

EDIT: On the Pitch has some great practical resources for handling the swine flu scare. Its advice is targeted toward soccer leagues. But the lessons — including handling communication with parents — are valuable for any kind of league and coach.

ALABAMA HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION All events postponed until further notice. Events postponed until May 5.

MADISON COUNTY, ALABAMA — All children’s activities, including T-ball practices and games, in county parks canceled until May 4.

BRANHAM HIGH SCHOOL, CALIFORNIAAll events canceled through May 6.

INDIO HIGH SCHOOL, CALIFORNIAAll events canceled through May 7.

All games and practices canceled through May 4, as well as a ban on outside groups using school facilities.

HOMER COMMUNITY CONSOLIDATED DISTRICT 33, ILLINOISAll afterschool activities in middle and elementary schools, including sports, canceled for May 1.

WABASH SCHOOL DISTRICT, INDIANAAll practices for Thurs., April 30, called off. Games still scheduled, unless rained out.

WOODHAVEN-BROWNSTOWN SCHOOLS, MICHIGAN — All after-school activites, including sports, canceled for Thurs., April 30, and possibly through the weekend.

BEMUS POINT SCHOOL DISTRICT, NEW YORKAll sports canceled through May 3.

All events canceled through May 1.

Schools and all sports activities canceled through May 4.

ST. FRANCIS PREP SCHOOL, NEW YORK — All events will go forward as scheduled, unless opponents are too scared of contracting swine flu to show up.

All events canceled through Friday.

MAULDIN HIGH SCHOOL, SOUTH CAROLINAAll activities, including games and practices, canceled on April 30 and May 1.

NEWBERRY COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, SOUTH CAROLINAMost after-school activities, including sports, canceled through May 4.

MONTGOMERY BELL ACADEMY, TENNESSEEAll after-school activities, including sports, canceled through May 8.

THE CITY OF THE COLONY’S PARK AND RECREATIONS DEPARTMENT, TEXASAll youth league events at city facilities canceled through May 6.

CITY OF DENTON, TEXASAll league play and athletic programs including Denton Youth Soccer, Denton Boys Baseball and all field rental activities suspended through May 11.

CITY OF FORT WORTH, TEXASAll recreation center-hosted activities canceled until at least May 8..

CITY OF HIGHLAND VILLAGE, TEXASAll organized youth sports league games canceled from May 1-10.

All school district sporting events canceled through May 11.

TEXAS ASSOCIATION OF PRIVATE AND PAROCHIAL SCHOOLSRegion I-5A and 4A South Regional track meets scheduled for May 1 canceled.


SALT LAKE CITY CATHOLIC SCHOOLS, UTAHAll sports at Judge Memorial Catholic High School and Our Lady of Lourdes School canceled until May 5.

PARK CITY SCHOOLS, UTAHSchools and all sports activities closed through May 4.

CLOVER PARK SCHOOL DISTRICT, WASHINGTONLakewood High School sports activities canceled for May 1.

Further updates as events warrant. Please send any closing and cancellations to rkcookjr at, or through Twitter to @notgoingpro.

Written by rkcookjr

April 29, 2009 at 11:43 pm