A girls' baseball team laughs and talks in the dugout.

The top 5 reasons kids play sports

You want your child to be active and to have fun. Research shows that’s exactly what they want, too.

A Michigan State University study asked boys and girls aged 10 to 12 why they played sports. Here are the top five reasons they gave:

1. To have fun.
2. To do something I’m good at.
3. To improve my skills.
4. To stay in shape.
5. To get exercise.

Surprise: “winning” didn’t even make the top 10 reasons.

Study after study comes up with the same #1 result. Kids play sports for the fun of it. And not having fun is one of the major reasons 70 percent of kids quit playing sports by the time they’re 13.

Most often it’s parents and coaches who want to win. Kids hardly care. For them, winning is just icing on the cake. They’re focused on simpler things. Even at the high school level, most kids would rather play on a losing team than sit on the bench of a winning one. That doesn’t mean that kids don’t value winning, just that they prefer playing.

If you want your children to play sports, all you have to do is make sure they’re having fun.

Ed. note: an earlier version of this story incorrectly named University of Michigan as the source of the research. In fact, the study was conducted by the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University.

26 responses to “The top 5 reasons kids play sports

  1. Hi I read most of you reply’s and comments. And to be honest i’m Surprised not only by your comments but by how I even found pages and websites talking about ‘how to make your kid interested in sports’ I thought I was the only one having to go through hard time with the same problem. I am a 12 year old girl and for me I have absolutely no interest in sports however I train gymnastics and I don’t #1have fun at all I don’t even know the reason anymore and I tried talking to my parents but their answer is always the same ‘you will appreciate what we’re doing when you grow up’ to get back to the same point I rain gymnastics and I don’t lie the idea of it it’s so….bad. The idea of me stretching my legs so much at I feel pain or that I stand on my hands trying so hard to keep balanced. Yesterday I talked to my mum about this and her answer made me so mad ‘not everything you do you have to enjoy’ the thing is I do understand why we do sports but even the answer that I always hear makes me loose hope ‘to have a balanced and healthy life’ I train privately in my house with my two younger sister and obviously the coach. My sisters are way way way ahead of me before I train privately I used to go to a club with the same coach but with lots of other kids. And I was so terrible there I was the worst in the whole team. But now my coach’s dream is about letting us be in the champion ship and I 100% disagree I won’t preform in front of people some moves I learned for them to rate me and give me a medal then I payed for
    Even at school everybody thinks it’s so weird that I don’t like sports in fact I really enjoy reading. But most importantly I am very shy even at school I don’t raise my hand most of the time and wouldn’t;t like to read out loud. I really appreciate it if you read this comment and thanks for this very helpful article


    1. Hi Emmy, you are definitely not the only kid who has mixed feelings about sports. Some kids love team sports and organized activities, and some don’t (the same is true of adults!). The important thing is to try lots of activities until you find the ways you love to move. It doesn’t matter if you feel you’re not “good” at an activity to start as long as you enjoy it; the more you do it, the better you’ll get — and you don’t need to compare your progress against anyone else’s!

  2. most kids play to win to make their coaches or parents happy so they won’t get upset with them I know this because I am a child that has worked hard to archive goals but has also been to a doctor to doctor I also have a sister and a mom that and even said that they got overwhelmed because their parents pushed them way to hard and just wanted to play to have fun.

  3. Um, #2 “To do something I’m good at”. How do you know your good at it. You are better than a lot of the others around you. So you win against your peers. Yeah. “Winning” is the 2 most important reason kids play sports… Seriously use some critical thinking. It not only broke the top 10 it was 2nd place. But, hey, “winning” didn’t win!

    1. You’ve made a critical error in your reasoning, Steven. You assume that kids are only able to judge their “goodness” by comparing themselves to others.

      In fact, it’s only adults who make judgments that way.

      Kids actually look to adults for cues on their success. If adults are constantly comparing kids to each other, that’s damaging. Especially when you take into account the fact that kids the same age are not comparable because they develop and mature at different rates.

      Don’t impose your adult sensibility on kids. Because kids aren’t little adults.

      Instead, follow the science, and the evidence, on how we can create positive experiences for kids that will have long-lasting effects.

    2. Yeh, kids are playing sport to win, they’re just being brainwashed to give a”feel good” answer. In most sports scores/times are kept and monitored by participants, spectators and officials. Of course you play to win and if you have fun along the way, it’s a bonus. Maybe one day two football teams will enter the playing field and do a barn dance for one hour, then leave. Imagine how much fun that would be.

      1. But imagine if you just play for the sake of winning where is the fun bit
        Ok if I ‘win’ like you said oh my god I saved the world by scoring 8-5 I am sorry but how did that help the world. Imagine if you always win in games
        But wake up you can’t always win at lest in the real world where actually have to face real hard times not only about ‘loosing’

  4. great article Blaine… Playing with kids actually gave me opportunity to “re-live” again some of “my dreams” and simply makes you be active again.. Thank you for writing this great article

      1. the study you are talking about was done in 1989 and winning was not in the top 10. A more recent study in 2010 had boys & girls in various sports ranking winning as high as #2 & #3 in order of importance.

        Times change and so have our children and their perspective on sport.

  5. the study you are talking about was done in 1989 and winning was not in the top 10. A more recent study in 2010 had boys & girls in various sports ranking winning as high as #2 & #3 in order of importance.

    Times change and so have our children and their perspective on sport.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Tyler. Can you provide more information about the 2010 study you refer to? It definitely sounds interesting, but we would like to review and assess the actual study. Specifically, we’d look at the age of the kids surveyed, the questions they were asked, and how the kids’ answers were interpreted. The study methodology can have a big impact on the conclusions drawn.

      1. My guess you’ve never received Tyler’s study because of course it doesn’t exist.

        Thanks for the great article, this should be mandatory reading for ALL parents

    2. Hi Tyler
      We are now in 2020 and yes all right kids have a perspective of just winning but I am 12 years old and I think winning is nothing against having fun

  6. It’s fascinating how these reasons stay constant decade after decade. Interested in learning more. Can you please share the reference for this study done out of the University of Michigan. Thanks!

  7. This is so true. My daughter always says this. Don’t get me wrong, she also plays to win, but it is definitely the playing and taking part she adores. I am happy to say we have never pushed or tried to live our dreams through her. We are quite capable of doing that ourselves. She is now 13 still loves climbing trees, going for bike rides, riding horses, comes home after school and is out at the playing fields within minutes having a game of football with her friends. It truly is wonderful to see and hear! Great article. Thank you.

    With thanks and appreciation.

    Cathi x

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