Why They Play, Why They Quit, Why It Matters


why_they_play_postMore than 40 million American youth participate in school and community based sports each year, however, most drop out at or around age 13. The following reasons why they play and why they quit, are crucial for adults involved youth sports, including parents, coaches, directors and board members.

Why they play – The most widely cited study of why kids play sports was produced in 1992 by the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development. Although the study results are now more than 17 years old, they still ring true. The top reasons cited include:

  • To have fun
  • To do something I am good at
  • To stay in shape
  • To learn or improve skills
  • To play as part of a team

A desire to win and compete was 8th on the list (higher for boys, lower for girls). Girls were more likely to name social reasons as motivating factors.

Why they quit – The same Carnegie Council study also cited reasons why youth quit organized sports. The top reasons include:

  • Lack of interest in the sport
  • No longer fun
  • Coach plays favorites / was a poor teacher
  • Wanting to participate in other activities
  • Diminished opportunities

Why it matters – The research on why kids play and why they quit is important for everyone involved in youth sports.

  • For children and youth, the good news is that most have an opportunity to participate in youth sports during their pre-teen years. The bad news is that many drop out at or around age 13, a time in their lives when many might need a youth sports team the most.
  • For parents, this research shows that some kids are simply ready to move on to another positive activity in their life. This is not a bad thing, and can often be a good thing. On the other hand, there are many kids who drop out of sports due to poor coaching, too much pressure, or lack of opportunities to play. This should be a concern to everyone involved, including adults involved in school- and community based programs.
  • For school and community-based sports program coaches, directors and board members, the results are a mixed bag. On the one hand, million of adults are investing time to give children and youth in the tens of millions an opportunity to have some fun, make some friends and learn some positive life lessons through sports. This is a great thing. On the other hand, we do have youth leaving sports due to lack of competent coaching, too much pressure from adults, or both. This is an issue which can be improved on if adults are willing to invest a little time in learning how to promote positive youth development through sports. Unfortunately, not enough individuals and programs are willing to do this, and the problem persists.
  • For everyone involved, we need to decide how we feel about millions of kids leaving youth sports during their early teen years for lack of continuing opportunities to play. These are the years in which many at risk youth are most in need of the structure and social network provided by a positively coached youth sports team. Yet this is the time when those without top-level talent are cut from high school teams and competitive club teams. Are we comfortable with this, or should we be working together to create more opportunities for sports outside of elite teams?

Editor’s Note:
Thank you to Elevating Athletes for this article.



  1. You always forget about the kids who quit because his biological age is much younger than his chronilogical age. (My son will be 15 soon but is the size of an average 11 year old. By the time he starts to catch up he will be a junior in high school). It is hard to stay interested in sports when you have the skill to play at a higher level but not the size. Or when you are expected to play against kids who are double your weight and 10 inches or more taller than you. Youth sports needs to start figuring out a way to keep the small guy in the game and developing their skills because someday most of them will catch up.

  2. Thank you for providing this very valid issue. Do any other readers have ideas on this. My best advice is to keep you child involved as best you can. When he does catch up, he could very well overtake those players who have peaked at younger ages.

  3. Thank you for providing this very valid issue. Do any other readers have ideas on this? My best advice is to keep your child involved as best you can. When he does catch up, he could very well overtake those players who have peaked at younger ages.