Our focus needs to be on what is best for the athletes. Let's sit down with them and listen, really listen, to what they want from the activities they participate in.
Researchers estimate that in the United States there are between 21 and 28 million youth, ages 8 to 17, who participate in organized sports.
If you add those beginning before the age of 8, that number would likely rise to over 30 million children in the United States who are playing organized sports.
The benefits of playing organized sports include, but are not limited to:
Maintaining physical activity
Developing a healthy self-esteem
Learning to deal with victory and defeat
Being a part of a team and something bigger than yourself
Building character and social skills
With all the positive benefits, why are youth dropping out of sports at an alarming rate?
According to a poll from the National Alliance for Youth Sports, around 70 percent of kids in the United States stop playing organized sports by the age of 13.
The negative factors teens face when not involved in healthy activities is disheartening.
Estimates are that 30 percent of teens are overweight and 46 percent of teens are at risk of weight-related health problems.
Over 20 percent of teens report drinking on a regular basis.
Illicit drug use among teens is also at 20 percent.
So, how do we keep youth involved and engaged in organized sports?
The remedy begins with listening to the athletes and understanding why they participate in sports. What can parents and coaches do to support the athletes and what actions drive them away from sports? What do the athletes feel they are learning from being involved in sports?
I recently conducted a survey to ask youth athletes those questions. The results are key to keeping them involved, whether it's junior volleyball or another organized sport.
Here are FOUR ways parents and coaches can help their young athletes continue playing volleyball:
1. Keep It Fun
Over 90 percent of the athletes responded that they play sports because they enjoy the activity and because it is fun. When asked why they have quit playing a sport or would consider quitting, the number one response for quitting was that they were no longer having fun and enjoying the activity.
One practical way we can support continued participation in organized sports is to provide an environment where they can continue to develop volleyball skills while still enjoying the sport and having fun. Teams can be highly competitive and still keep the fun factor. After all, it is a game they play!
2. Keep It Positive
Athletes reported that they enjoyed when their parents focused on the positive things that were happening with the team. They love to hear encouraging words. The best thing parents can do to support them, according to 100 percent of the athletes reporting, is to be encouraging towards them and their teammates. The negative things that parents do that athletes find harmful are yelling, criticizing, coaching from the stands or on the ride home and being negative towards the referee.
One of the factor athletes like the least about organized sports is negative team dynamics with other players and/or coaches.
3. Find the Balance
If athletes are burnt out or the time commitment is too high, they are more likely to quit playing or would consider quitting. Athletes need a healthy balance between organized activities and time to spend on school work and other commitments. They need family time, time with friends and down time to just relax. It is important to allow them time to attend school dances, sporting events, school plays, movies, and other events.
Offer Various Opportunities
It is also critical that we allow athletes of all abilities to participate in the sport of volleyball. Providing developmental, recreational, intermediate and advanced levels of play will keep more children engaged in the sport. Allowing children to participate in more than one activity will also help prevent burn out and overuse injuries.
The many positive things they are learning from sports is amazing. Athletes report growing in their leadership skills, learning to be a good teammate, patience, learning how to have fun and be a good friend, sportsmanship, accountability, discipline, time management, humility, hard work and responsibility.
Our focus needs to be on what is best for the athlete. Let's sit down with them and listen, really listen, to what they want from the activities they participate in. If we make a commitment to bring balance into the lives of the athletes we are blessed to encounter, we will keep them on a healthy path.
Let the games begin!