Curbing Youth Sports Dropout

Tony Hall My Turn
Photo courtesy of Tony Hall


The glee we see in children playing at a playground bring equal amounts of joyfulness to moms and dads. The way young children become absorbed by moments of blissful fun and playful abandon is captivating. They have been cast in a Harry Potteresque spell—let’s call it glorioso oblivionum, glorious oblivion.

The playground is a hallowed space for children because their play is “spontaneous and child exclusive.” This view contrasts with organized youth sports environments that are “organized and adult inclusive.” While adults are needed to administer youth sports programs, the massive exodus of youth athletes from these organizations must be addressed. By age 13, 70% of all youth athletes have left organized sports programs.

Can you imagine the bewilderment if 70% of 5-year-old kids informed their parents that they no longer wanted to go to the playground? That thought would be shocking, right? When we look at the 70% dropout rate in organized sports, the most significant and unpublicized issue for our children is the loss of “protective factors.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines protective factors as “conditions that increase an individual’s ability to avoid risks and promote competence.”

Sport is transformative on a holistic level; sports participation and physical activity support long-term health, achievement and well being for our daughters and sons. Researchers have documented that participation in sports can enhance academic performance and the likelihood of going to college and lifetime earning potential while reducing obesity and the use of cigarettes and illicit drugs.

The added protective factors for our daughters are more compelling. The positive health benefits for physically active young girls and teens include a reduced risk for developing breast cancer, osteoporosis, heart disease, teenage pregnancy and suicide. Girls who participate in sports are less likely to be depressed and more likely to possess higher positive levels of self-esteem and body image.

The reason for this deep dive into the academic realm of protective factors is to inspire volunteer parent coaches to participate in coaching education. The Aspen Institute reports that fewer than 30% of coaches of children ages 14 and younger have received sport-specific training. Here is the corollary: According to the University of Maine Sport
& Coaching Initiative (2004), athletes who play for untrained coaches drop out at a rate of 26%. Trained coaches retain 95% of their players.

It should come as no surprise that most volunteer youth coaches are parents. Parent coaches who sacrifice the time, energy and caring to support developing athletes are truly the backbone of youth sports.

Volunteering is an important first step. The second step for a parent coach is training. Volunteering + Coaching Education is the evidenced-based equation for lowering the 70% attrition rate. Parent coaches who are trained in coaching methodology, teaching technique and communication skills build higher levels of athletic competence. More importantly, coaching education will set the stage for continued participation in sport and the preservation of protective factors.

What parents wouldn’t celebrate a reduction in negative outcomes for their child? What parents wouldn’t celebrate the benefits of the protective factors mentioned above? As a parent, wouldn’t you be forever grateful for a coach who sustains your child’s engagement and longevity in sport? If you are a parent coach, then this individual can be you.

The lifetime benefits of sport participation for our children must long outlast the fading numbers on a scoreboard. As a trained volunteer parent coach, you have the power to make this impact become real.

Tony Hall is the technical director for Towson United Boys Soccer and is responsible for coaching education. A recipient of the Dove Caring Coach Award, Tony earned a U.S. Soccer “A” coaching license, has participated in coaching education programs in Spain and Denmark and was highlighted in the youth sports documentary “Good Sport” for his commitment to child-centered coaching principles. Email him at [email protected].


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