Regardless of the size of school you coach at, or what level it's at, chances are pretty good that you've got kids with a great deal of potential walking the halls that played football at one point or another in their life but for one reason or another, those kids quit.
The Changing The Game Project took a look at five reasons why kids quit sports, and while a lot of their stance is from the vantage point of a parent, there are a lot of lessons here for coaches as well.
1) It's no longer fun
The article points out a 2014 George Washington University study that found that 90% of kids said that the number one reason they played sports was because it's fun. Fun was defined in the study as "trying their best, being treated respectfully by coaches, parents and teammates, and getting playing time."
The lesson for coaches: The game no longer being fun is probably the single most common reason that kids playing a certain sport at a young age. It has always been my belief that the younger the kids are, the more important it is for them to have a positive experience, surrounded by good coaches and people. That's what keeps them coming back for more
2) They have lost ownership of the experience
Even at a young age, kids want to feel invested, and a sense of ownership in their team and feel like their voice and decisions are heard and valued. The article points to a study that the average teenage boy turns to video games on an average of 17 hours a week in part because he doesn't have a coach, parent or adult standing over his shoulder critiquing his every move.
The lesson for coaches:Find a way to give players on your team a sense of ownership. This can be as simple as not yelling instructions from the sideline during the play, and allowing players to make their own decisions in the moment, even if they may be mistakes. A more creative way to create ownership is to form a leadership council of sorts, where players on the team are allowed to weigh in on everything from uniform combinations on game day to disciplinary action of a player when needed.
3) They don't get playing time
"90% of children would rather PLAY on a losing team than SIT THE BENCH on a winning team" the article points out.
The lesson for coaches: As coaches, it's part of our duty to help our players maximize their on-the-field potential. Having guys in charge of the youth program that understand the importance in getting everyone on the field at a young age, and providing a positive experience for those kids will pay huge dividends at the high school level.
At the youth level it's much more plausible to get everyone playing time, but even at the high school level, if you've got two kids neck and neck in skill, but one is already starting on one side of the ball, chances are pretty good that it's in the best interest of 1) both kids and 2) the program to try and two-platoon things as much as possible.
4) They're afraid to make mistakes
"Great players develop in environments where they do not fear mistakes, where they are encouraged to try and fail, and they are made to understand that failure is a necessary part of the development process," the article notes.
The lesson for coaches: Create an environment where you recognize how players respond to failure and adversity just as much as you praise them for a job well done. "Body language always screams, it never whispers," (source unknown) and "Event+Response=Outcome" (via Tim Kight) are two quotes that I am reminded when thinking about this one. Failure and adversity are going to come in life long after the pads are handed in, it's important that we, as coaches, teach players how to deal with those moments instead of overly criticizing them and their roles in it.
5) They feel disrespected
In that 2014 George Washington study, children listed the #1 characterstic of a great coach to be "respect and encouragement".
The lesson for coaches: As coaches, it's important for us to understand what buttons we can push with certain players to get them to respond, and what won't work. Coaching is often compared to teaching, and for good reason because a one-size-fits-all approaches doesn't work for either. Criticizing a player in front of their peers is not always the best approach. Some kids will respond to that, while others will feel disrespected and will then shut down.
The following two additions are not from the article, and are simply observations that I have made as a coach over the years.
6) They're simply burned out
Kids typically "burn out" in a certain sport for one or two reasons: 1) Kids specialize in the sport year round and/or 2) Parents and coaches have impossibly high expectations for the kids that they feel like they can never live up to.
7) They "don't like the coach"
If you're a new head coach taking over a program, chances are you've heard this one from kids that didn't play football the past few years. Usually they didn't play under the previous head coach because of a combination of the things above; playing time, it wasn't fun for them, etc. To me, this has always been the biggest cop-out response from youth and it sets a dangerous precedent because as they grow older you have to think that train of thought will not serve them well when they encounter a boss they don't like, or a teacher they don't like. Quitting, and using that as the reason, starts kids down a very, very slippery slope.
In an era where the benefits of being a multi-sport athlete has been documented again and again, it's important that coaches of all sports take note of these 7 reasons that kids quit sports to make sure we're providing the best experiences for players from youth sports, to high school , and eventually college student athletes.
Head here to read the full piece from The Changing The Game Movement.