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Why Kids Quit Sports: The Impact of Fun and Perceived Ability

Updated: Nov 22, 2023

Why Kids Quit Sport

Why do kids lose interest in sports?

It is no secret that around the age of 12, youth that were active participants in sports programs choose to pursue other activities, or ditch organized activities altogether. For over 40 years, researchers have aimed to discover why kids start sport and subsequently why kids quit sports.


We will present research from multiple studies that may give some insight on why kids lose interest in sports and why they started playing sports to begin with.

Underwater Kids Having Fun Swim Team

In a comprehensive report produced by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency titled What Sport Means in America: A Study of Sport’s Role in Society, researchers conducted 8,943

surveys, from the general population, youth involved in National Governing Body (NGB) sports program, youth participating in community sports programs, coaches and parents.


When asked why both youth and adults participate in sport, the overwhelming primary

reason was because sport was fun. In fact, 81% of youth participating in local community

sports programs listed “fun” as the primary reason they started sports and 79% of youth

in a higher level NGB program listed fun as their primary reason (Boxill, Glanville, &

Murray, 2011).


Why Kids Start and Why Kids Quit Sports

(What sport means in America: A study of sport's role in America)

What Kids Value in Sport

Why Kids Quit Sports

​Doing my Best (92%)

Playing sport was no longer fun anymore (27%)

Performing Well (83%)

Found something else I liked to do better (23%)

Improving my Skills (82%)

Wasn’t as good at sport as other people my age (21%)

Fun (82%)



Fun was the primary reason for beginning a new sport, but for NGB sports

programs, the most important values during competition were: “doing my best” (92%), “performing well” (83%) and “improving my skills” (82%). These came to the forefront moving the element of “fun” (82%) tied for the third most valued element. For community programs, fun remained as the overall valued element, followed by “doing my best” (Boxill et al., 2011).


When reviewing surveys of why kids quit playing sports, children who used to

participate in sport listed the top three reasons for no longer playing: “Playing sport was

no longer fun anymore” (27%), “Found something else I liked to do better” (23%), and

“Wasn’t as good at sport as other people my age” (21%) (Boxill et al., 2011).


In a separate study conducted by Scanlan and Lwthwaite (1986), they also found a

high correlation between enjoyment of the sport and their desire for future participation

in sport. More importantly, “The findings regarding the intrapersonal predictors of age

and perceived ability demonstrated that younger children, and those who perceived

themselves to be more able, experienced greater enjoyment than their counterparts”

(Scanlan & Lewthwaite, 1986, p. 31). Furthermore, compared with participants who had

negative perception of their ability, boys who felt their parents and coaches were more

satisfied with their abilities had greater level of enjoyments.


 

"Those who perceived themselves to be more able, experienced greater enjoyment than their counterparts."

-Scanlan & Lewthwaite, 1986

 

Fun and enjoyment is amongst the top reasons youth start and continue in a sport

and lack of fun and enjoyment may be what leads to dropout from sporting program.

Research by Scanlan and Lewthwaite (1986), have suggested that self perception and the

perception of others may influence enjoyment greatly.





Brady (2004), found similar results to those of the research projects listed

previously, he found that, “late maturers are particularly susceptible to developing a low

perception of their abilities. During childhood, boys overwhelmingly identify athletic ability as a determinant of social status among their peers”(p. 38).


Takeaways Why Kids Quit Sports


  1. A young persons perception of their abilities is critical to their enjoyment of sport, if they do not perceive they are as good as their peers, they are more likely to be discouraged and quit sports.

  2. Late-bloomers are more likely to view their abilities as below those of their peers.

  3. While Fun should always be an element of sports, fun is not actually what many kids value.

  4. Youth want to see improvement, perform well, and do their best.

  5. So, as coaches and program leaders, we should continue to make fun a priority, but we also have to remember that the kids keep score as well!

  6. As parents, encourage your kids in the things they did well. Let them know that you see improvement, reward effort during games and practices not necessarily looking at just the scorebook.

Let's keep kids active for years to come, remember that kids that are behind in physical development will catch up to their peers, but puberty starts at different times for every child. Encourage them through those periods where they may be behind their peers.






References


Boxill, J., Glanville, D., & Murray, T. (2011). What sport means in america: A study of

sport's role in america. (). Colorado Springs, CO: U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.


Brady, F. (2004). Children's organized sports: A developmental perspective. Journal of

Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 75(2), 35-41.


Scanlan, T. K., & Lewthwaite, R. (1986). Social psychological aspects of competition for

male youth sport participants: IV. predictors of enjoyment. Journal of Sport

Psychology, 8(1), 25-35.


Tags: why kids quit sports, why does my kid want to quit sports, fun in sports, when your kid quit sports, why do kids quit sports, why kids quit playing sports

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