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Posted by on Jan 19, 2007 in Hockey, Misc. | 18 comments

Why 70% of Kids Quit Sports at Age 13

Why 70% of Kids Quit Sports at Age 13

On January 2, 2003 Laura Langendorf posted an article on the Sports Esteem blog.

Read ‘Basic Rules for Parents>>

This article starts in the traditional way;According to the National Alliance for Sports, of the 20 million kids who sign up, 70 percent quit playing league sports by the age of 13 and never play again. The media points to enraged parents and bad sportsmanship as the biggest problem in youth sports.The key word is ‘Media’. Not only the traditional media but the uninformed players, fans and family too.

It is genius to point out that seventy percent of parents don’t go south at age 13 on the sports scene with their kids. After all they made it quite a few years. If the kid started hockey at age three or four then the parent enjoyed nine or ten years of success! Pretty good track record don’t you think?

So we are left with statistics from the National Alliance for Sports to explain why it goes south for seven out of ten kids. Unfortunately and as is often the case the ’statistics’ don’t take into consideration reality. Giving a bunch of thirteen year old sports drop-outs a survey form and asking them to select the check box that best answers the question on why they quit doesn’t really let you see behind the mask (or mirror in some cases).

What is missing is an understanding of child brain development. As kids hit puberty they take on a new sense of self yet do not have the brain development to explain it to National Alliance for Sports, their parents, coaches or even themselves. So IMHO talking to your child to understand how he or she feels, helping guide them through their emotions or sort out their innermost thoughts is one big waste of time.

The human brain doesn’t fully develop its capacity for rational thought until approximately the age of 23 years! A researcher on the subject quipped teenagers act like they don’t care. Why? Because they don’t! Given their brain development, they are physically incapable of it.

For my money if you want to give your teenagers a fighting chance at sports then you will have to make it a requirement, not an option. If you leave the rationally challenged youths to their own means seventy percent of them will sit in front of the video screen all day, every day. In my play book that is not an option.


  1. Interesting post. I am reading everything on this topic that I can as my 12 year old wants to bail on basketball mid-season. My other child was just cut from middle school basketball and would give anything to play. So, even if we make it a requirement what do we do when they are cut?? Actually, in my Google search i came up with an excellent new book. The title is: Home Team Advantage by Brooke de Lench. She is all over that developmental stuff and how mothers and women are the missing piece to balancing sports with life. The other good resource is the web site I work as a nurse and found her info right on the money.

  2. A requirement? That’s a great idea — make them learn to despise sports by forcing it on them. Genius. Also, when it comes to something like this (as opposed to something like education, which is something people really should be focusing on), it’s not about what the parents want — it’s really about what the kids want, and if the kids don’t want to participate in something as superficial as sports, then they shouldn’t have to. If parents want to play sports, then fine, that’s their prerogative, but don’t force things on people who have no interest in it.

  3. Hey, thanks for the comment. I appreciate the discussion.
    It should be noted that I also force them to

    Go to School
    Brush their Teeth
    Dress Appropriately
    Do Chores Regularly
    Take Music Lessons (Piano, Saxophone and Drums)

    You mention “something as superficial as sports”. My reading tells me that those who participate in sports reap all kinds of rewards; consider good health, improved attention span, improved ability at team work… (the list is long).

    Uh, at what age did you feel parents should give up control and let the kids do the decision making? At ages 12 and 13 in our house it really is about what the parents want. When they turn 18 it will most certainly be all about what they want for themselves and are able to make happen.

    Don’t mis-understand. Our kids have plenty of choices they get to make. Why just the other day Max purchased ATV Off Road Fury IV. What a waste of forty bucks, eh?

  4. Fifteen! Heck, he’s almost an adult. My kid is the same age, fifteen in one month, just finished drivers training in prep. for his permit. Zac took a couple seasons away from competitive ice and is ready to come back He just finished a season of competitive roller hockey which has gotten him into good shape as well as adding some stick handling skills and keeping his speed up. He is currently brimming with confidence.

    Max (my 13 year old) on the other hand had a tough season of rec hockey where a couple kids on the team entertained themselves by picking on him in one way or another. He wanted to bail out early. I’m not sure he is ‘eager’ to participate but he did ask me for new skates 🙂

    If Zac wanted to quit hockey we would demand that he replace it with some other sport. The idea is to stay healthy via sports. Your situation sounds like something a coach (good coach) could address. I know, they are few and far between.

    Check out Hockey Coach .com, this article in particular:

    I wish you well and keep me posted on how it all shakes out!

  5. My son is about to turn 15 and is a very talented ice hockey player. He has told us that he no longer wants to play because he is not having fun. He has a couple of players on the team that he does not like playing with because they are very critical of him which might be the reason. I can see where requiring him to play might be the appropriate decision but would like to know if anyone has had a similar experience and how did it work out?

  6. Update :: Now that my boys are a month or so short of 15 & 16 years old, I have new perspective on this subject. Soon to be 16 Zac was all signed up for competitive tryouts and eager to get a position on our local AA team. After watching his high school season I could see he had as much as or more game that boys at that level; his stats verified my observation. With three days to go before tryouts Zac informed us he was not trying out. He intended to play rec. “It will be more fun” he said. Our conversation (limited by his teenagedness) lead to the discovery that:

    1.) He would be humiliated for some reason to not make the AA team
    2.) He wanted to hang out with his hockey buddies, many of whom were playing rec.

    What influence does your organization have with the kids. Ours is more concerned with maximizing their revenues. Generally there are few qualified coaches. Sure, they all went through the USA hockey program and got rated the level necessary for the age group they were coaching. I’m rated level 3 and I can tell you the coaching clinics do little to prepare a dad to coach. Would you agree that the great coaches aren’t great because they went to the USA coaching clinics? I digress, sorry. I have found that the persons running the organizations go out of their way to avoid the parents and do little or nothing in mentoring the involved youth. I think we can all agree that teenagers are more likely to listen to their mentors/coaches, if they respect them, than they are their own parents.

    What one needs to recognize is how a teenagers sense of self and desire to finally have their own control over their own life leads them to make decisions, sometimes bull headed decisions that may surprise you. These decisions will make as much sense as can be given their current state of development. If their plan is to downgrade to rec, or quit sports altogether then I believe a knowing parent will have to sit back, uninvolved, unless called upon. The chance of being called upon will be related to the relationship you have managed to develop up to this point.

  7. Hey Georgie,
    Thanks for the comment. I’ll have to look into Home Team Advantage. You know, even though Zac says he doesn’t want to play roller hockey this go-around he will actually have fun doing it. It seems to me he worries that he won’t be the very best as ice hockey is his forté. I think in the long haul he will see it all in perspective. Unfortunately for us parents it is tough on us too dealing with their petulance.

  8. My son is 13 and is on a baseball team with a lot of other players (14). They started a new system this year. There is a new coach who is the former high school coach trying to teach the kids baseball and keep them involved in the sport through high school. Many of the kids will leave for basketball or football, and they want to give them better skills. Unfortunately, their attitude is also to only play those who are better to teach the kids what it’s like to be on the bench.

    For example, my son used to pitch, but they don’t think he has the arm for it any longer so they haven’t let him pitch (he’s only in 7th grade and hasn’t filled out like the others). He played yesterday, but he only played 3 innings and batted once. He’s not happy. He wants to skip practice today, and he says it isn’t fun anymore. I’m trying to get him to persevere, but he says he would rather play basketball (he didn’t make the team last year and played rec). He used to love baseball, but as soon as things get tough, he wants to cut and run. Should I let him skip practice? How can I get him to stay with it and learn how to be competitive?

  9. To JonLewis,
    Your son is at that magic age where all good reasoning goes out the window, or does that happen at fourteen; fifteen? I tell you, there are so many intangible things inside of each of us that enable us to be the specific individuals we end up being. As the kids pass through that pubescent teenage process to become adults, they establish their individuality. You aren’t going to be able to force them to be what you see as their stellar possibilities. You may be able to bribe them, but would that serve you or them well?

    While being frustrated by the choices my boys make as they make choices related to their sport, I have to let the chips fall where they may. What it takes to be the best has to ultimately come from inside those individuals. So, while I encourage them to follow through with their commitments, I can’t force them to go to practice.

    Finally, sports are supposed to be fun, aren’t they? Did you lay down the ground work that will allow your son to get past the rough patches? I know I didn’t (or couldn’t). They are young, so plenty of time left. I’m reminded of those stellar athletes who didn’t become great until late high school, or even college. Michael Jordon comes to mind.

  10. I should point out that this season’s high school coach put Zac on the JV team. This may motivate him next season to play at his potential! Of course this season’s high school hockey program is filled with politics; varsity players who should be on JV and vice-versa, team manager quits in tears, freshman goalie given a varsity spot, returning varsity goalie put on JV; ultimately quits (he was the better goalie IMHO). Such drama!

  11. I hate to change subjects but my issue is with my 14 year old daughter who is a tennis talent. She plays USTA Juniors and has been the #1 player in Girls 12’s and 14’s and is currently #5 in Girls 16s. Also top 100 Nationally in her age group. She recently told me she hates tournaments. She likes to play team sports (volleyball & softball), but at 5’4” she likely wont play varsity volleyball in high school. She says she might like to play for a college tennis team but the only way there is through USTA tournaments. We have cut back her schedule, which is light. We rarely go to nationals. However, the last one she went to she won a doubles title. I don’t know what it is about winning she doesn’t like. Coach is great, but she doesn’t condition outside of weekly lesson and drill group. It would be nice to have college scholarship, but D1 or Big10 means nothing to her. She is unimpressed with her talent. Don’t know what to do. the plan now (since she doesn’t know what she feels) is to stay on course, play less tournaments and see what shakes out for offers her senior year. feel like we are raising a John Daley….all the talent in the world and no discipline. Help

  12. Great stuff there Keke50. IMHO you must have done a lot right from the get go to have made it as far and as successfully as you have. I think if you make it the next couple years you may see a big change.

    Zac just informed me that he is ready to go back to competitive hockey. He is sixteen, going on seventeen. We tend to see the world through our own special glasses. If I only had Zac’s youth and talent, what I wouldn’t give. Seems he just fritters it away. Max meanwhile has taken a serious turn in his hockey and has been finding new success. Who knows what the future will bring. The tricky part is getting there in some semblance of order.

  13. Good food for thought…. Here is our issue:

    I believe our 16 year old son is experiencing a fear of failure? He has lost motivation and drive, due to his experience with his high school baseball team and is letting the actions of the coaches steal his joy and love for the game. The baseball program (Freshman-Varsity) is VERY competitive. The varsity coach always talks about how winning is the bottom line. The Varsity coach controls all levels of baseball including the roster.

    My son is a Junior on the JV team who is a “role player”. Since freshman year, he has always been a “role player” because he did not have the skills of the other boys and he played another high school sport in addition to baseball. The varsity coach recognizes that he knows our son is working hard and wants to keep our son around the game of baseball. He will play travel/club ball this summer.

    Son gave up other sport to concentrate on baseball and grades. He plays when the game is a blow out one way or the other or if the opposing team is really weak. He started and played two full games and did very well. Son continues to have a great attitude and he is a great team mate always smiling and cheering his team mates on giving the pitcher encouragement etc. He never complains about playing time and is dedicated to practices.

    The parents commented on how when he was playing he looked like he was having a ball, however, we think that when it was apparent he would be a “role player” again, his confidence was crushed. It appears that son is afraid because of the competition on varsity that he will get cut so he would rather quit (for senior year) than get cut. We will not allow him to quit because we feel he needs to be mentally strong and he is taking an attitude of defeat. He has played baseball since he was five and has put in extra work all along. This same son wants to go into politics after college. It just does not make sense to us. So my question is what would you do?

  14. Can you work out some kind of arrangement that would conclude when he turns 18 or graduates high school? He is at a tough age, where teenagers think they know everything, but given the young age obviously have a lot to learn. I have observed that the kids become much more reasonable as they age.

  15. I’m 12 and I quit the only sport played baseball.
    I had 371 batting average but my family and peers would say I suck

  16. My 12 yr old wanted to quit hockey after 8 years of playing with 4 years of AA competition. He played on the 7th grade football team and loved it. As parents we decided for him he was playing hockey wether it be AA or house. Soon after he hit ice he found out how football had enhanced his abilities, the thrill of playing again was there.
    What I found was that at this age, confidence plays a major part in how children think. If Alex hadn’t been forced to play, he would have never discovered this transformation.

  17. i am 15 and i love sports

  18. I love the discussions going on here. I think it is important to strongly encouraging your kids to participate, because often they are shy or it is easier to sit and play video games. But as someone who has coached youth sports for 16 years, both recreational (houseleague) and rep (travel), it becomes very obvious which kids are playing because they want to, and which kids are playing because their parents are forcing them to. I think you need to let your kid try different sports, at different competitive levels if possible…they need to enjoy what they do … or what is the point? So make it a requirement they participate, but let them find something they enjoy, not something that the parent enjoys. I wrote my thoughts on why kids quit sports

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