“I just don’t want to play anymore” A daughter reluctantly admits to her friend towards the end of her first season. “I don’t think I want to go to practice anymore.”
Upon hearing this, a parent’s mind runs through all the reasons why this might be happening: burnout, other interests, team dynamics, I was too hard on her. What could it be?
“It’s my dad. He loves me and I know he only wants the best for me, but he just can’t stop coaching me, in the car, and from the sideline each and every game. I can’t play when he is around. It’s like it’s more important to him than it is to me now.”
Sadly, this story is a common one. In my experience as a Parkour coach (what is parkour? read more here), many children find a safe haven in parkour after having just left an organized team sport. Frequently, their reasons for why they left their teams are strikingly similar to the quote above. It is a tale about well-intentioned parents who want nothing but the best for their children. They love their kids; they just don’t always love them in a helpful way.
Did you know? 70% of children are dropping out of organized sports by the age of 13. Whenever I mention this sad statistic, people come out of the woodwork saying that it’s only the kids who aren’t good enough to play that quit. They say it’s an age where school, jobs, and other interests take precedence. Kids will be kids. These things are true and contribute to a part of the dropout rate, but they are not the entire picture. There is something here our ego is not allowing us to see properly.
Sadly, in our current state of youth sports, kids and families are asked to do more and more at younger and younger ages, especially the kids who show early aptitude in a sport. Many of these athletes, our most dedicated and talented ones, burn out and drop out as well.
“We don’t simply lose the kids who cannot make varsity; we lose many of the best athletes on our teams.” – John O’Sullivan
If you are a parent or a coach, I believe it is critical that we have a good understanding of why kids play. At the same time, it is important to understand why kids can come to feel pressured or uncomfortable in a structured sports environment, leading them to quit that sport and become more reluctant to participate in sports later in life.
It is also crucial that we have open lines of communication with our youngsters, while also letting go of any parent/coach ego one may harbor so we can educate ourselves to spot the red flags of burnout, and gently guide our kids back onto a path of play, enjoyment, and growth.
I believe there are five main reasons kids walk away from sports, and they all boil down to one common denominator: they cause kids to have a poor state of mind when it comes to sports. Look at each one of these scenarios and ask yourself “Is this, my child?” If the answer is yes, then it is time to give Parkour a try at Freedom in motion. Let’s take a look at the top 5 reasons why kids quit organized sports.
#1 It’s no longer fun
The #1 reason kids quit is that sports are no longer fun. In a 2014 study for George Washington University, researcher Amanda Visik interviewed numerous youth athletes and asked them why they play sports, and 9 out of 10 said the #1 reason they played was that it was fun!
The children in the George Washington study defined fun as “trying their best”, “being treated respectfully by coaches”, parents and teammates”, and “getting playing time”. They listed eighty-one characteristics of fun, and winning (#48), playing tournaments (#63) and practicing with private trainers (#66) did not finish high on the list.
If your young athletes are not having fun, they will eventually walk away, regardless of talent or how good their team or coach is. Adults rarely do voluntary activities such as exercise or community service work that they do not derive enjoyment from. Why do we think our kids will?
The Parkour Solution: In today’s competition-heavy environment, the stresses of winning and performing up to the perceived “team standards” can overwhelm young athletes with anxiety which will quickly overpower any sense of fun. Fundamentally, Parkour is an individual personal growth sport. Because parkour is not about who is the best, but rather encourages people to discover their personal best, makes Parkour completely play and exploration centric. This removes aspects like losing a game, or letting your team down and replaces them with “I’ll myself to be able to achieve that goal someday” and team practice with “I’m doing parkour with my friends”
Because parkour is playing with movement, Parkour naturally is inherently fun for kids. While not creating a space for certain peer or parent pressures & anxieties.
#2 Kids have lost ownership of the experience
I believe that one huge factor that makes traditional organized sports less fun and leads children to pursue other interests over sports is the loss of ownership of the experience.
Think about it, millions of kids leave sports and look for a place where their every action and every mistake is not scrutinized by an adult. That is not to say there is no place for coaching or teaching, but good coaching does not take away autonomy. If you doubt this, then ask yourself “Why does the average minor play 17 hours of video games a week?” A big part of that why is there is no one standing over his/her shoulder critiquing every move, and demanding that he entertain them.
As the parent, If you find yourself saying “we struck out 10 batters” or “we scored 2 goals” you have not allowed your child to own their experience. You rob them of the good feeling that comes when telling someone of your hard-earned achievement. Instead, the parent claimed it as their own success. If you find yourself coaching your child on every play from the sideline, and telling him to “run faster,” “steal the ball” or “pass” instead of letting him make his own decisions, you are not helping! You are stealing ownership of the experience from your child, and in the process sucking out the enjoyment and replacing it with a whole host of potential negative feelings. Would it be helpful to have your boss stand over your shoulder and critique everything you do at work? No? Then why do we think it helps our young athletes?
The Parkour Solution: Parkour is completely subjective and interpretive. There are not times when an athlete needs to score a goal or pass at the right time to be deemed successful or a useful player. Movement athletes of course practice movements, but it's then up to them to choose their own style of play, create their own combinations of movement, and find their own paths through any obstacle course. Because of these layers, it becomes very personal and any accomplishment is completely the athlete and the athlete’s along to claim. Luckily, because most parents have little or no first-hand experience with parkour, parents are just genuinely surprised and amazed when their kids learn something that appears to be out of a stunt reel. The parent’s initial surprise is picked up on by the child and translates into feelings of joy and success. A truly fun feeling for a parent to give a child through their reactions alone. No backseat coaching here.
#3 They don’t get playing time
If kids are on a team, and they never get to play meaningful minutes or get pulled out after any mistake, they are going to quit! Kids want to play. Kids need to play. It matters little to them how good their team is, or how famous their coach is if they never get in and contribute to the team. A study by the Josephean Institute found that 90% of children would rather PLAY on a losing team then SIT THE BENCH on a winning team.
Likely related to the Pro sports culture and how much of a role it plays in the lives of adults, an overemphasis on winning at younger ages is creating an all-star culture in elementary school sports that no longer allows children to develop at their own pace. When coaches focus solely on wins and losses and only play the kids who will help the team win today, coaches drive so many kids out of sports who in the long run would ultimately be better players.
The Parkour Solution: No one can bench you for being “less than” in parkour. Funny enough, a bench is a perfectly worthy parkour obstacle. Every built or natural environment offers an opportunity for parkour play. It is up to the individual to engage in whatever level of movement they feel like at that moment. Furthermore, Once moving there are no right and wrong moves, no worry of performing the wrong sequence of moves and disappointing good ol’ coach. The only thing telling a child the dos and don’ts of parkour are the child’s own physical and mental boundaries. Pushing and expanding those boundaries is a wonderful side effect to learning parkour.
#4 They are afraid to make mistakes
Kids tell us that one of the main reasons they quit is because they are afraid to make mistakes, because they get criticized, yelled at, benched, and more.
Great people, in any discipline athletic, artistic, or academic, develop best 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. Coaches and parents who keep a running commentary going on the sideline, second-guessing every decision and action kids take, and yelling at young athletes for trying their best and failing, create a culture of fear that drives players out of the game.
The Parkour Solution: As we know by now, there are no wrong moves in parkour. There is no one telling your child that they somehow have failed. In Parkour, the only things offering failure-solution feedback are the very obstacles with which one uses to do parkour. Bumped your knee while vaulting over an object? It might hurt for a minute or two, sure, but it’s a helpful incite into how a movement can be altered and improved upon next time. The athlete gets to examine themselves and feel responsible for the correction. This builds critical thinking, problem-solving, and confidence. Parkour coaches can offer tips and techniques, but it’s up to the athlete to choose how that advice is applied. This personal trial and error also allow athletes to predict what future mistakes will come, allowing them to face them with confidence instead of a sense of fear and aversion.
“When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel.” – Eloise Ristad
#5 They feel disrespected
In the 2014 George Washington study, children listed the top five characteristics of a great coach, and “Respect and Encouragement” came in at #1. I have never met an adult who enjoys being disrespected by his or her friends, family or co-workers, yet go to any sports match and you see numerous examples of children who are being disrespected because they made a bad pass, or missed a shot. I see ridiculous shows like “The Short Game” in which 7-year-old golfers are hounded by their caddy-daddy after chunking the same chip that a PGA pro chunked the previous week.
Talents are hard to master. It takes thousands of hours and years of practice to become proficient, yet we expect our 9-year-old soccer players to make the right decision every time, and our 11-year-old baseball players to always score the winning goal. When they make mistakes, many coaches and parents treat their athletes in a way that they would never allow a teacher to treat their kids, or their own boss to treat them. We would never allow kids to come to our sporting events and treat us like we treat them, right?
The Parkour Solution: Because under the umbrella of parkour lies literally hundreds of various movement styles, tricks, martial arts, and philosophies, it is expected, that no matter how much deliberate practice an athlete may undertake, there will always be someone, somewhere, doing moves that said athlete has never even considered trying before.
This aspect of parkour helps eliminate that “I am the best” mentality. If there is no best, then there is no worst. These ideas are replaced with respect among athletes. If one athlete shows proficiency in their flow and technique in certain movement genres, then when another athlete with a completely different set and style comes along the way they interact in the parkour world is pretty awesome. No one is better than the other, they simply must respect and learn from the other. The lack of competition creates the space for respect and cross-pollination of ideas and values.
Today in the US, and around the world, statistics show that over 70% of children drop out of organized sports by the age of 13. This, in an age with nearly 1/3 of our US children being classified as overweight or obese, is a travesty.
The adults involved in youth sports, be they, parents, coaches or administrators, have the responsibility to create an environment that serves the needs, values, and priorities of the kids. Parkour lends a helping hand in mending the emotional scars that may have been left by a bad competitive culture experience.
With parkour ideals, we can help our kids develop success-building environments, and keep them in love with movement. We can do this by communicating better with our kids, asking them what they want out of the experience, and then letting that experience belong to them. And when they begin to develop their own style separate from our own, you have to allow the space for them to create themselves.
We can do this by treating them with the respect they deserve and allowing them the space to fail. Watch them create and test their own solutions, you will be genuinely amazed at how quickly they will progress.
We can do this by letting all kids move freely in a culture that supports creativity and individuality.
A 70% failure rate may earn you millions of dollars in the professional sporting industry, but it is not helping to create a culture rich with growth and individuality, things vital for the next generation to become successful.
Allow them to move freely, and the entire community benefits.
Freedom in Motion Parkour Gym Moving freely since 2014 #FreeYourself
p.s. Are you a parent or adult reading this thinking that parkour could help you reclaim your love for moving? Or do you have a child who went through this experience? Please comment below and tell us more in the comments below!
Visek, Amanda J. et al., “Fun Integration Theory: Towards Sustaining Children and Adolescents Sport Participation,” Journal of Physical Activity & Health, 2014.