During a visit over the Christmas holiday, my family engaged in a conversation about youth sports and when it is (and when it is not appropriate) to allow our children to “quit” a sport or activity. As we always do in my family, we respect all points of view and weighed both sides of the issue. On the drive home, my wife and I re-visited this issue, mainly because we were trying to spark up some conversation on the three hour car ride with a sleeping toddler.
Regardless of the level of the team or the sport that I have been associated with, I have had athletes step away from the sport. As a college administrator, I have had student leaders step away from their position in the middle of the academic year for one reason or another too. I have a conversation with each one of these students/leaders and always try and find out the real reason that they step away and give up their position on the team. I always want to get to the real root of the problem so I dig deep to answer the question, “what are the real reasons behind this decision?”
Alice Lee penned an on-line article in February of 2016 that was titled, “7 Charts that Show the State of Youth Sports in the U.S. and Why it Matters”. She notes in the period from 2008 through 2013, sports participation and fitness dropped significantly. About 3 million fewer children participated in sports (on average) in only five short years.
There are so many benefits to youth sports, so it saddens me to think that we are trending in the wrong direction. Alice Lee states that children in youth sports, “are one-tenth as likely to become obese, 15% more likely to go to college, and they are more likely to be productive adults.” And as a youth coach for a long time, I think that youth sports add discipline, courage and accountability to the lives of younger children. Those are things that I think are vital to all of our lives.
There was a very good article written by Doug Samuels in May 2016 (7 Reasons That Kids Quit Sports, and What it Means for Coaches) that focuses on why kids step away from the sport. He notes that some kids step away because they aren’t having fun, they don’t like the coach, feel disrespected, they are burned out or they aren’t getting playing time.
Those aren’t surprising for me, as I think those are the common reasons for kids to quit.
But I was drawn to two other reasons he highlights in his article. He noted that kids quit because “they have lost ownership of the experience” and they are “afraid to make mistakes”. I think as coaches and parents, these are issues that we may have created and issues that we need to hit head on. (Note: I say “may” because this is a general statement and does not apply to every parent or coach reading this). He explains that our youth choose to play video games over sports because they don’t have a coach telling them what to do over their shoulder. They want ownership for their own actions and don’t want to be critiqued when they make a mistake. I can see this, and I think it’s true. As a “part-time gamer” myself, I am drawn to video game sports because I can create a dynasty of my own without someone stepping in and telling me how to run my team. I can play who I want, when I want and I am in charge of my own success and failure.
In fact, I am currently playing a game where I don’t actually play at all; I just sign players to the roster and simulate all of the games. I know, it sounds like fun….anyways, I digress.
We have all had coaches who have made decisions that weren’t in the best interest of the team. Maybe they made selfish decisions or played “favorites”, or led the team in a way that didn’t make much sense to you or your son or daughter. That can be frustrating. In a situation like this, an athlete might want to step away from the sport because they are facing a challenge that seems daunting. In their eyes, they were treated unfairly, and the easiest thing to do is walk away.
If you are a parent, and you have a child in this position right now, let me offer up my take on the most productive way to proceed forward.
It’s simple….urge them to finish what they started.
It might not be the easiest thing to watch our children sit the bench. It might be even tougher watching another child “get the ball” when it’s apparent to you that your son or daughter should get the last shot. I get it, it’s not an easy situation. But it’s not about you – it’s about the lessons that your son or daughter are learning through this situation. They will survive and will be a stronger person.
You cannot control the coach and the decisions that are made. What you can control is how you and your children respond to the situation. Rather than focus on the negative, try to see this as an opportunity to teach your child some life lessons.
Mr. Samuels also noted that children quit sports because they are afraid of making mistakes. As a coach, I want you to know that I value mistakes. I understand that the only way for us to grow as athletes and as people is to fail and to learn from it. We aren’t perfect….we fail all the time, we make mistakes and we lose the game. But we need to have the courage to face those failures and understand that we will be stronger once we have learned from them and have moved on.
Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University. You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.