Why Do So Many Kids Quit Sport by Age 13?

Why Do So Many Kids Quit Sport by Age 13?

by Dennis A. Johnson, EdD

The answer to this question is simply too much, too soon, and too intense!  A few weeks ago, I read with great interest the NWCA blog from Heath Eslinger the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga wrestling coach regarding his take on youth sports that children should play and not pay.  Don’t pay to play on travel teams for the U-10 age groups? He encouraging playing and not paying and cited the fact that as many as 70% of children who begin playing a sport before the age of eight won’t make it to play in middle school.  A major reason for this dropout rate is in part due to the fact that children simply don’t have fun.

But what is fun?  Although research is not exactly clear as to what defines fun there are many thoughts on the topic.  For instance, for many young wrestlers fun is associated with positive movement experiences. This appears to be a key ingredient for keeping children involved in sport.  Visek, et.al., used concept mapping to determine a more research-based concept of fun in a study of youth soccer players.  They concluded that we as coaches and administrators “should advance the understanding of positive, fun movement by establishing a youth sport ethos” (1, P.428).  That is, a sport ethos that relates fun to the trifecta of being a good sport (social), trying hard (internal), and positive coaching (external).

I also read with great interest an Associated Press story on sport specialization versus becoming a multi-sport athlete.  They discuss high rates of burnout and injury associated with single sport participation. Therefore, states such as Michigan that are creating task forces to increase multi-sport participation.  Professionals such as Urban Meyer, Jordan Spieth and John Smoltz have also spoke out in support of multi-sport participation (2)

So why do children drop out before the age of 13-specifically in wrestling? Any of the following will play a roll, however, the main reason always comes back in some way to the lack of fun.

  • Children don’t get successful experiences in practice and competition.
  • Children do not get meaningful and positive praise on a daily basis
  • Parents set unrealistic performance goals based on the parent’s view
  • The elementary season, in most cases, is just too long!

Check out the Check out the NWCA Youth Coaching Manual for more helpful hints on how to keep youth wrestlers engaged and motivated in order to cut the attrition rate. “Find a way and make it happen”….dj


Visek, A.J., Achrati, S.M., Mannix, H. M., McDonnell, K., Harris, B.S., & DiPietro, L. (2015). The Fun Integration Theory: Toward sustaining children and adolescents sport participation. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 12, 424-433.

Associated Press (2015, May 8, p. 14c).  Where have the multi-sport high school athletes gone?  Erie Times-News:  Times Publishing Company, Erie PA.

Dennis A. Johnson, EdD</div> Associate Professor-Jamestown Community College (SUNY).  Former Wrestling Coach & Author of Wrestling Drills for the Mat and Mind DennisJohnson@mail.sunyjcc.edu

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