In a recent article in the Washington Post, Julianna W. Miner breaks down the gut-wrenching statistics about why seven out of ten kids quit organized sports by age 13. (Note: this is an American statistic from the source, National Alliance for Youth Sport; for a more Canadian spin on the same topic, see this article from the CBC.) If these numbers come as a shock to you, you’re not alone. Miner admitted that she shrugged the unfavourable odds off completely, until her oldest child approached the critical age of 13.
Miner’s detailed account about the cultural, economic, and systemic issues facing preteens in organized sport, is a must-read. She outlines each with refreshing honesty and tangible emotion.
The main takeaway of the piece is that a lack of enjoyment in organized sport has been at the forefront for a while now, and this fun-sucking, competitive factor isn’t exclusive to athletics. As children get closer to high school, the pressure to be “successful,” be it in sports or arts, is overwhelmingly apparent. Didn’t make the middle school team? Switch sports. Not the lead actor? Might as well quit. Whether you want to admit it or not, we live in a competitive world and there are pressures on both kids (and parents) to deliver this idea of success.
Perhaps, as Miner points out, “the underlying message that ‘I have to be the best or I’ve failed’ is deeply harmful for kids.” Whether kids get this idea through test-heavy schooling or early specialization in sports, neither is helpful. Compound those stresses with the hormonal storm of puberty, add a side of social media and an extra-large helping of peer pressure, and we have ourselves a recipe for quitting.
While the way we play and the way we grade may not change overnight, schools, sport associations, and parents each have a role to play to shift the emphasis towards health and happiness as the main priorities.
You can start today by letting your child try lots of activities, having fun playing with them, and helping them develop a growth mind set. By changing the tone of success in the years leading up to age 13, and focusing on fun, active play, we’re giving our kids more reasons to stay and play.