It’s fairly obvious how beneficial playing sports is for kids. Getting to be a part of a team, learning to be a good loser and the awesome brain boost that comes from get dog-tired on a playing field are among the benefits.
Given all the good things that participation in sports brings to a child’s life, it’s distressing that an estimated 70 percent of kids quit playing sports around age 13, according to the Washington Post. The reason? It stops being fun.
While sports teams tend to be inclusive before kids hit the teenage years, playing a sport at high-school age—whether at school or on a club team—becomes much more competitive.
“The system is now designed to meet the needs of the most talented kids,” said Mark Hyman, a professor of sports management at George Washington University and the author of several books on youth sports told the Post. “We no longer value participation. We value excellence.”
Both schools and parents put more pressure on kids to not just participate but excel in their chosen sport as they get older. The allure of college scholarships, the pressure on high school coaches to lead winning teams and the popularity boost that is associated with being a top high-school athlete are all strong forces to be reckoned with.
While shifting the entire system of high school sports may take some time, there are some steps that parents can take to help keep kids participating in sports throughout their teen years—and how to keep it feeling fun:
1. Choose your child’s team and coach wisely.
Watch the kids on the team: Are they having fun while competing? Is the coach encouraging? Are they kids playing fairly? Is it worth it for your child to get an athletic scholarship if she or she is miserable along the way?
2. Practice in moderation.
As Parenting.com points out, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that training for youth athletes be limited to no more than five days a week and that kids take a two- or three-month break from their primary sport each year.
3. Model good sportsmanship.
The last time your child lost a game at the buzzer, what was your reaction? Did you focus on the loss or on the successes that your kid or the team as a whole achieved? A survey from George Washington University asked 150 children what they found fun about sports. The children identified 81 contributing factors, and guess what didn’t fall at number one? Winning. In fact, it was number 48 on the list. Factors ranking above it included positive team dynamics and coaching, learning, and trying hard. Watch the professor who led the study discuss her findings below:
While there’s no doubt that playing sports is good for kids in the short- and long-term, we’d all be well-served to remember to keep the emphasis on play more than anything else.