Hey, you in the stands!

Written by by Mark S. Faber, USPTA Elite Professional. Posted in May

With the spring sports seasons in full swing and the summer seasons not far behind, I’d like to revisit an issue that I believe we as parents, coaches, and fans really need to remember. The issue is the statistic found in many publications that states 70% of youth quit sports by the age of 13. To follow that up, I have read, once again in many studies and publications, that the number one reason this occurs is because the experience is not fun for them.


To start this conversation off, we must define what fun is. Simply put, as adults, our definition of fun is going to be much different than that of the nine-year-old down the street. The reason people participate in sports is also different. There is a resource out their known as the Changing the Game Project. Part of the research they did was to find out why kids played sports. The number one reason nine out ten kids gave the researchers was one word: fun. Some of the other top five reasons were playing time, getting along with teammates, and trying their best.

As a coach, I can tell you those answers would not seem to match up with what a parent or even some coaches would say. Winning seems to always come to the forefront of the conversation when talking with or listening to adults, and many times that is where the worlds collide and cause the 70% to drop out of sports altogether.

The next time you sit in the stands watching your children, nieces/nephews, and/or grandchildren play, I ask you to realize one thing: kids hear you and how you are acting and many times your actions speak louder than any word you would ever say. Also, I ask you to remember that the kids you are watching are just that—kids. They are not little professionals. I understand that many of you have invested time, money, and other assets in providing an opportunity for your child to participate in a sport as well as extra training to help them prepare to be the best they can be. However, that does not change the fact that they are kids and will make kid mistakes.

It is crucial to remember that how one reacts to those mistakes is what makes a lasting impression on a young mind. If the impression they have is a voice yelling at them from the stands, making a variety of comments, then I am pretty sure they will not see their experience as fun. Now, I truly understand the importance of winning in sports, and I do not believe that everyone deserves a trophy. I am just reaching out to all of you to help do your part in solving the 70% dropout rate.

One other thought on this subject I want to share is something that made—and continues to make—a huge impact on me when dealing with the reactions and overall development of athletes and people in general. There are various stages of growth and development, and during those stages youth face different mental, physical, and emotional challenges. The one that has stuck with me the most involves children under the age of 12. That is, they want to please and not disappoint people (especially the special ones in their lives like Mom and Dad).

Ever wonder why young athletes seem to look up at or over to their parents at an event? The reason is simple, at least to me now. It’s because they either want to see their parents’ excitement when they have done something great or they want to see how upset they are when they feel they have let them down. Remember what I wrote above—many times a person’s actions (body language) will speak louder than any word they might ever say. So you could be verbalizing all the right things, yet your body language could still be saying all the wrong things.

This month, my request to readers is simple. This spring and summer, please do not be that person in the stands or on the sidelines that everyone refers to as the loudmouth and whose son or daughter ducks away from when they hear you in the stands. Be the one that keeps things fun, yet realistic. Be the one that makes that positive impact on many youth and know that you did your part in making it a positive and fun experience, not only for your kids, but also others around them. By doing so, maybe, just maybe, you can be part of the movement that reverses the trend from 70% of kids quitting sports by age 13 to 70% or more of kids staying in sports after age 13.

Let’s all get out there and make a difference in the lives of our youth.❦

Elizabeth Scott