Where Are They Now?

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

It’s been almost four years since I wrote an article entitled, Everyone Calm Down, which went viral. In it, I related an experience of walking past a youth soccer game and seeing some very bad behavior from the parents on the sideline. The other day I was thinking about those parents and those kids and it got me wondering where they are now.

As I wrote back then, the boys on the field appeared to be around eight or nine years-old. That would put them at twelve or thirteen now. According to a study by the National Alliance for Youth Sports, about 70% of kids quit playing sports by age thirteen. So, statistically, most are either out or on their way out of the game I watched them play.

The aforementioned NAYS study attributes the drop-off to kids not having fun anymore. And while I’m sure that’s what most who were surveyed answered because it is a simple explanation, the true reason may be a little more complex.

One issue is that there is just nowhere for many kids to play as teens. I was a board member in a Little League with 900 players. After Little League, kids who wanted to continue could play in the Juniors division for ages 13 and 14. But after that, unless they made the high school team, I don’t know of the existence of another option. Our league fed into four high schools. With a varsity roster of approximately 25 each, that means only roughly 100 out of 900 were still on the field just a few years after Little League. So are high school-age kids not playing because there no leagues for them, or are there no leagues because kids that age just don’t want to play?

Many soccer and basketball organizations still offer recreational opportunities through the age of 18, which is wonderful. But the number of participants is much, much lower than, say, ten years younger. One of the big issues is that playing sports as a teenager, unless you’re pretty good, is just not cool. And we all know how peer pressure affects teens. When questioned why he is doing rec sports it is probably the rare high school student who has the self-assurance to say, “I’m terrible at it but I just enjoy playing.”

So not all the blame can go to the lack of fun caused either by overbearing coaches, parents, or both. But I wonder about those little kids from that competitive soccer team I observed on two occasions four years ago. What effect did it have on them when the parents exploded at a referee’s call and the ref had to blow the whistle and warn both sides that he’d clear the benches after one more outburst? The parent who repeatedly screamed at me to “Keep walking,” with veins bulging out of his neck and temples when I admonished them. Or the first time I saw this team and the little boy who cried like a baby after a minor collision on the field, inconsolable by his mom or by his dad who had earlier tried to intimidate a teenage ref into making a call.

Who would be surprised if many of these youngsters had given it up by now? Did any of us have that kind of pressure on us at that young age? How would we have liked it? Maybe some thrived in that environment, are still moving up the ladder in competitive sports and will someday be high school and even college stars. I know of at least one kid who I’m betting is in the 70%.

As a society we ought to be looking at ways to encourage young people to continue playing sports, even if their dreams of being superstars have ended. But we also need to be sure that, were those opportunities to exist, there would be kids who still loved the games enough to join in.

Brian Gotta is a former youth baseball coach and volunteer Little League board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels and a baseball coaching book which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com