A new poll recently showed that more than 70% of kids stop playing sports by the age of 13. Julianna W. Miner for The Washington Post explored the issue and the possible reasons. It turns out, we as a society might inadvertently be pushing kids out of sports by this age. Truth is, they don’t find them to be much fun anymore by that point. Ms. Miner gave these as potential causes:
“It’s not fun anymore because it’s not designed to be.” As kids get older and closer to high school, the focus of sports shifts from fun to more of a competition. They are expected to perform, and those who are more talented (and competitive) are naturally selected to stay in the game.
“Our culture no longer supports older kids playing for the fun of it.” We expect our kids to do well, and when they don’t, we encourage them to find activities in which they can be successful. This doesn’t just go for sports. “We see it in middle school orchestra, where a kid who doesn’t make first chair wonders if it’s worth continuing to play. If a seventh-grader doesn’t make a select team for soccer, she starts to wonder if maybe it’s time to quit altogether, thinking that if she’s not hitting that highest level, it might not be worth doing?”
“There is a clear push for kids to specialize and achieve at the highest possible level.” Children, even as young as 12, are often encouraged to figure out what they’re passionate about. And we want them to be good at it. “Perhaps more importantly, the underlying message that ‘I have to be the best or I’ve failed’ is deeply harmful to kids. This is absolutely mirrored and reinforced in school, where the environment is increasingly test and outcome-driven.”
“There is a cost to be competitive and not everyone is willing or able to pay it.” Perhaps this one is for the parents as much as it is for the kids. Playing sports at a higher level leads to an increasing investment of time and money. According to Miner, “[t]hat contributes to an environment where kids of lower-income or single-parent families are simply shut out of the game.”
“And, of course, it’s just the age.” Kids at age 13 are focused more on schoolwork, social lives, and of course, social media. “There’s no longer time for them to do as much they did in elementary school.”
So with this perfect storm of triggers, most kids just don’t want to continue playing sports. And can we blame them? Milner concludes that “until we dismantle the parenting culture that emphasizes achievement and success over healthy, happy kids, we don’t stand a chance of solving this problem.”