Ask a parent what their kid wants most from playing sports, and they’ll tell you “fun,” according to the results of a study just released by Project Play, an Aspen Institute initiative. And if you ask a kid why they quit a sport — something that happens after fewer than three years, on average — the most common answer is that it just wasn’t fun anymore. While it may seem that this is one of those rare points on which children and their parents agree, it turns out that the generations may have different goals.
As the price of sports participation continues to rise (another trend noted in the report, with an average annual cost of $693 per child per sport), parents worry about getting their money and time’s worth, and that leads to stress on young athletes. While things like unstructured play can seem like a waste of valuable practice time to adults, that’s the kind of fun that keeps kids engaged. Likewise, kids who participate in more than one sport tend to enjoy them all more, though a parent might be tempted to view this as not “leaving it all” on one particular field.
In the end, parents, kids, and coaches get frustrated, and kids drop out.
To combat the decline in youth sports participation — a drop to 38 percent from 45 percent since 2008 — the Aspen Institute is launching a public awareness campaign called Don’t Retire, Kid. It begins on ESPN’s SportsCenter with a public service announcement, and follows with an interview with campaign spokesperson Kobe Bryant. Bryant and other athletes have produced a series of videos on the subject, and while kids are certain to tune in to hear their athlete heroes, the advice is clearly directed at adults.
The PSA, videos, and #DontRetireKid social campaign will send young athletes and their parents to a host of great information at www.ProjectPlay.us. That site offers checklists, videos, reports, and other tools that will help the youth sports community develop strategies to make sure everyone is having fun.