In this guest blog, TOVO Institute’s Todd Beane examines US Soccer player retention rates and how coaches can help keep young players in the game.

Here’s what the Positive Coach Alliance out of California mentions as to major reasons why up to 75% of our children drop out of sports by the age of 12.

1. It’s not fun anymore
2. Pressure to perform
3. Lack of competence in the sport
4. Time demands

As I see this disturbing information gleaned from research professionals, I feel disappointed. Let’s be honest with ourselves coaches. We are basically responsible for items 1 through 3 on the list above.

1. Fun:

How can playing a sport that you previously enjoyed not be fun anymore? It can be draining when trainings are boring, the energy is poor and the objectives are lost in wins and losses and coaches’ egos. If we cannot make a sport which is innately fun, enjoyable then what are we doing? That is like making a sunny day cloudy – hard to do but we seem to be doing it if participation rates fall so dramatically.

2. Pressure to Perform:

I see kids in the park playing openly and with great frivolity and joy. In fact, my son at eight years old here in Spain finds playing in the park exponentially better than going to boring trainings to be screamed at every time he makes a mistake. And in fact the park may just be more competitive so it is not just about confronting failure. It is about coaches who place too much pressure on results before they place themselves under pressure to deliver a positive and fruitful experience for their players.


3. Lack Of Competence:

One’s confidence comes from their quality. If nothing else we should be improving the skills and habits of a player and nurturing their mindset to be resilient? Are we not on the field to teach competence and character? Are we not on the field to build a sense of self and a confidence in one’s ability to take on challenges? Are we not in the business of building self-worth? I would say so.

4. Time Demands:

OK. I get this one. Maybe you choose Boy Scouts over American Football – who can blame you (just kidding for my American Football friends). But, this one makes reasonable sense if you factor it as a child’s choice to engage in a passion beyond the field. More power to that child. However, if this is a result of our demanding too much specialization too early then perhaps we revisit what we expect of our 10 year olds and applaud them for playing ice hockey and soccer if it brings them the joy required to stay engaged in the benefits of sport.

I am not suggesting that coaches are fully to blame and dismissing the enormous responsibility we as parents have. I happen to be both a coach and a parent so the burden is double. And it is not easy. But for our children it is worth holding ourselves accountable to the highest possible standards.

Let’s look to learn from coaches who do this well – whose kids stay engaged, challenged and laugh along the way. I have had wonderful coaches who have made sport a platform for lifelong relationships well beyond undefeated seasons. Let’s learn from parents who can watch their child lose a match and only utter the words, “I am proud of you” when they return home. Is it not John O’Sullivan who teaches us to say 5 words that can make all the difference, “I love watching you play”? How hard can that be if we love and admire our own offspring?

Best practices, best coaches, and best parents are among us. Let’s seek them out as models and become that coach that inspires. Let’s become that parent that supports. I would be fairly willing to bet that we can reduce that drop out rate quite significantly if we stopped making sport a burden and more of a blessing.

It might just be better if we do not lose our children along the way, no?



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