By Patrick Cohn
Did you know that 75% of all young athletes drop out of sports by the time they are 13? They drop out because taking part in youth sports is no longer enjoyable for them.
What factors might prompt young athletes to drop out? First of all, they might be playing for the wrong reasons—because a parent or coach wants them to play. Ultimately, playing to make someone else happy doesn't make the athlete happy.
Second, they may feel too much pressure to perform. When kids feel too much pressure, they often under-perform. Their confidence and happiness may sink.
Third, peers, parents and coaches may expect too much of young athletes—especially talented athletes. High expectations can undermine athletes' confidence and happiness.
To ensure your young athletes continue to enjoy sports, make sure they're playing because they want to play – for their own reasons. Provide many opportunities to compete in sports, but let your young athletes lead you. If all they want to do is play recreationally, let them do just that.
Don't push them to try out for higher levels of competition if they're mostly interested in playing for fun with friends. If you push them, your efforts may backfire and your kids may drop out of sports. Kids sometimes thrive when they can develop confidence at lower levels and progress at their own pace to high levels of competition.
In addition, don't focus too much on winning. Winning may be fun for parents. But it's not always what's most fun for kids. Keep the long-term benefits of sports participation in mind. By taking part in athletics, kids learn important life skills such as sportsmanship, teamwork, and coping with adversity. They also stay fit and healthy.
Check your own motivations. Do you want your kids to play sports to win scholarships or to succeed in ways that you failed to succeed? Don't assume your athletes have the same goals or motivations that you have about sports.
Be a good cheerleader. Be positive and supportive of your young athletes' team and coaches. Find ways to help out the team. You can be a team parent or sign up to bring snacks, for example. While you're being supportive, be sure to keep your own coaching to a minimum. Leave the coaching to the coach.
Award-winning parenting writer Lisa Cohn and Youth Sports Psychology expert Dr. Patrick Cohn are co-founders of The Ultimate Sports Parent. Pick up their free e-book, “Ten Tips to Improve Confidence and Success in Young Athletes” by visiting www.youthsportspsychology.com