If your child quits playing sports, he or she will have zero chance of playing competitively and making their high school team (or beyond). They’ll miss the opportunity of being part of a team and learning important life skills and values like teamwork, sportsmanship, resiliency, effort, attitude, respect, and tenacity. And they’ll miss out on the bonding—the brotherhood or sisterhood that develop from being part of a team with a shared goal. And for those talented kids, losing motivation and burning out mean they won’t have the opportunity to compete at the college level.
How many kids are quitting sports? If your child is in middle school, you probably realize it’s a lot. The numbers confirm this:
70% of kids will quit playing sports by the time they’re 13.
Why do kids quit playing sports? There are many factors at play here. They might have had coaches that emphasized winning at all costs, they may have sat on the bench for way too many innings, or they may not have been invited to join a travel team that all their friends were on. They might have been cut from their middle school team. And some kids just lose interest and some get injured.
In his TED Talk called “Changing the Game in Youth Sports”, John O’Sullivan cited a study done by the University of Michigan on 30,000 kids. When asked why they quit playing sports, all of the above reasons were mentioned. But the #1 reason was….”it’s just not fun anymore”.
A lot of our kids’ sports experiences are controlled by others and outside factors. But are there things we can do, as parents, to foster the enjoyment of playing sports? After all, if our kids enjoy playing sports, they’ll be more likely to stick with it longer.
The short answer is yes—there are things we can do (and shouldn’t do) that are completely within our control as parents!
KIDS PERFORM WORSE IN SPORTS WHEN WE DO THIS
We are well-intentioned parents, for sure. But the research is telling us that some of the things we do with good intentions are actually detrimental to our kids. First up: micromanaging our kids’ performance and coaching from the sideline.
Coaching our kids from the sideline seems like a good idea. We feel that they need instruction and support. Humor me here and try this—imagine what it would feel like if someone was constantly shouting out instructions as you tried to do something. Imagine that you had been taking salsa lessons, and it was the day of the performance. You are up on stage, ready to dance, and just as the music begins, you hear your instructor yelling out, “Get ready! Head down! Back straight! Look up! Faster! Your rhythm is off!” Distracting, right?
What would you have liked to happen in that scenario? You probably would have preferred your instructor to just leave you be, so you could dance your heart out to the best of your ability at that time.
Now imagine what your child experiences when he’s up to bat. He steps up to the plate. He sees the pitcher. He’s getting into the zone when he hears:
Parent: You can do it!
Coach: Wait for your pitch!
Teammate’s Parent: Be a hitter!
Parent: Why did you swing at that one—it was in the dirt!
Coach: Level swing!
Teammate’s Parent: You’ve got this!
Parent: You’re out in front!
How can your kid concentrate at the plate with all of that being yelled at him?
I was searching for something about the mental game in baseball when I came across Mike Matheny’s “Manifesto”. Matheny is the current General Manager of the Saint Louis Cardinals (Major League Baseball). He was a former MLB catcher and a multiple Gold Glove winner. When he decided to coach his son’s Little League team, he wrote a letter to the parents. In it, he wrote:
I believe that the biggest role of the parent is to be a silent source of encouragement. I think if you ask most boys what they would want their parents to do during the game; they would say “NOTHING”. Once again, this is ALL about the boys. I believe that a little league parent feels that they must participate with loud cheering and “Come on, let’s go, you can do it”, which just adds more pressure to the kids. I will be putting plenty of pressure on these boys to play the game the right way with class, and respect, and they will put too much pressure on themselves and each other already. You as parents need to be the silent, constant, source of support.
Mike Matheny knows a thing or two about playing at a competitive level. But when I read his letter, I thought surely he did not mean that parents could not support their kids by yelling out positive words of encouragement or positive cheering. So I decided to ask my kids. I sat them both down; they were 12 and 8 at the time. I asked them, “When you’re up to bat, and we yell positive stuff like, Be a hitter! Or You can do this! Is that distracting?” And both, in unison, and without a moment’s hesitation, said: “YES, MOM!”.
That gave me pause. After all, the last thing I was trying to do was be a distraction to my kids. In our exuberance to develop our kids to perform at their best, we feel the need to coach, cajole, criticize, and on the positive side, yell encouragement from the sidelines. This was a lesson learned for me. Now, I try to remember this when at my kids’ games (although I admit I’m not always successful). At your child’s next game, think about how your child feels and try to be a “silent supporter” to them. Not only will they appreciate your support, but they may actually perform better!
CREATING BAD SPORTS MEMORIES FOR OUR KIDS
Bruce Brown and Rob Miller are longtime coaches who now run the consulting firm Proactive Coaching LLC. They performed an informal survey of hundreds of college athletes, spanning over three decades. In their survey, they asked the athletes, “What is your worst memory of playing youth sports?”
Their answer: “The car ride home with my parents.”
This stopped me in my tracks. After all, my wish as a parent is to build a lifetime of happy memories with my kids. It’s certainly not to be the cause of bad memories for them.
For many of us, the car ride home seems like the most natural time and place to deconstruct the game. I admit that I’m 100% guilty of this. And to be honest, even knowing this, I still struggle with this a bit. It’s hard. Keep in mind that when you get into the game analysis so soon after the game (in the car); critiquing, criticizing, and scolding your kid—this actually makes them feel terrible. It can make them feel as though their worthiness is tied to their game performance.
If your child wants to discuss the game, by all means, go ahead and dive in. But if not, give them some space and simply talk about something else (homework, lunch, etc). We have the power to make the car ride home a welcome respite from the pressures of performance, instead of something that our kids dread.
To sum up, the post-game analysis on the car ride home is the worst memory of playing sports for many athletes. Will it be for your child as well?
THE ONE THING TO DO TO FOSTER THE LOVE OF SPORTS IN YOUR CHILD
With so much talk about how the love of sports is being drained from our kids, is there a way to keep the joy IN sports? In the same study, Bruce Brown and Rob Miller asked the same college-level athletes, “What is your best memory of playing sports?”.
Overwhelmingly, their best memory was when they heard six words from their parents:
“I love to watch you play”.
It’s beautiful and uncomplicated. They just want to hear that we love to watch them play. So, if you do nothing else—if you just simply can’t refrain from the after-game critique in the car or coaching from the sideline, just be sure to tell your child “I love to watch you play”.
Because you do love to watch them play. You make every effort to attend all of their games, and take intense pride in watching them out there on the field or on the court. But do you actually tell them? I think that sometimes we take it for granted. We think they automatically know this—given the sacrifices we make in getting them signed up, taking them to practices, clinics, conditioning, and games and the money we spend on uniforms, equipment, and travel.
It’s simple. You can do this immediately and it costs nothing. Be sure to say those six words to your child before his next game-- tell him that you’re looking forward to his game simply because you love to watch him play.
To conclude, here’s the two things you should stop doing if you want to encourage the love of sports in your child:
- Don’t coach or yell from the sideline. Be a silent supporter of your child.
- Don’t talk about the game in the car after the game unless your child wants to.
And…if nothing else, be sure to tell your child, “I love to watch you play”.
I hope you found this post moving or useful in some way. Please share it with your friends on Facebook, your fellow Team Parents, or pin it to your Pinterest boards. And, and if you’re interested in suggestions on how to talk to your kid about sports to encourage a growth mindset, read about it here. Together, let’s encourage their love of the game and watch our kids blossom into fine young adults and athletes.
Until the next time…Aloha!