There’s nothing more exciting than watching your young child participate in a sport for the first time. Nothing matters but watching them having fun, running around with new friends in their little jerseys while learning fundamentals that will last a lifetime. It’s a milestone of youth.
But something happens after those earliest days. Through my many conversations with athletes at all levels, the fun that was so infectious about sports, for many, inevitably fades into the background.
70 percent drop out of sports by age 13 according to Michigan State research because, they say, they’re no longer having fun.
Athletes who make it through to high school and college face the competitive realities of year-round play, often with whirlwind travel, and giving up almost all other endeavors to chase their (or their parents’) sporting dream. Some are fortunate enough, through their talent and hard work, to earn scholarships and play professionally. But a culture of winning takes over for too many, at far too early an age, and young athletes are the victims of this: 70 percent drop out of sports by age 13 according to Michigan State research because, they say, they’re no longer having fun.
This is our failure, as adults. Returning fun to youth sports is critical to the success of the young athlete—on and off the court or field—and it’s central to my mission.
In the immediate term, we need to help our young athletes navigate this system, provide them resources about stress, anxiety, overuse injury and over-identifying as an athlete. In the long term, we need to reshape and remake this system.
Pushing young athletes and their coaches to win above all else is crippling to everything good that can come from athletics. We have to rethink what winning means, that sports are much larger than the scoreboard. We need a system that teaches resilience, coaches our youth to become active, healthy teammates and provides experiences that help our children become unafraid of failure.
We can change the environment in youth sports one parent, one coach, one league director at a time. One game at a time. One school at a time.
After all, it’s adults who are responsible for the fighting, yelling, nasty Facebook messages and belittling of coaches, officials and athletes that happen all too often during youth sports. We must help develop and uphold higher standards for creating positive environments for our kids.
I created Rethink the Win as a resource for adults interested in giving the game back to the kids. I’ll regularly post videos, blogs and articles that touch on our roles in youth sports and start conversations here and on social media about the challenges and opportunities we see to make long-needed cultural shifts. You can also see how to bring me to your school, league or team to work more closely with you to teach and bring lasting change to your corner of the youth sports world.
Your daughters and sons won’t remember the individual wins or losses, but they will always remember a coach who brought positive energy, the camaraderie of playing with friends and the mastering of a sport in an uplifting environment.
The most important “W”s will never be seen on the scoreboard.
I hope you will join me in this movement!