Female Athletes Are More At Risk for Quitting — Can You Lessen the Odds?

If you’ve been involved in youth sports for any length of time, you’ve probably heard the alarming statistic that 73% of kids quit by the age of 13.

Just to put that into perspective, if you’re looking out over a team of 20 players—a manageable number for those of us challenged by math—then you can expect that about 15 of them will quit just as they enter the teen years.

Even more disturbing if you’re a girl’s coach or the parent of an athletic daughter, is that the odds of her abandoning sports participation is 1.5 times MORE than boys her age.

For the visual learners out there, that would be 9 girls to every 6 boys of the 15 that decided to quit.

And unfortunately, by the age of 17, half of THOSE girls will quit sports COMPLETELY.

With so many valuable benefits to being part of a team, it’s essential to ask, “Why do girls quit sports?”

Women’s soccer star, Mia Hamm—who knows first-hand how valuable sports can be— teamed up with Gatorade to understand the “why” and to see if they could change the stats, with their “Sisters in Sweat” campaign.

We can divide Reasons "Why” into 2 Camps

According to the study done by Gatorade and Refinery29, the reasons given for quitting sports were:

  • 39% to prioritize academics
  • 21% because they didn’t like missing out on social activities
  • 32% did not feel good enough to continue
  • 46% didn’t see a future in sports

To lessen the odds of a girl quitting, it’s helpful to differentiate between the REASONS for quitting—some appear more legitimate than others. But they generally fall into 2 camps.

The first 2 in the list

  • Prioritizing academics and not wanting to miss out on social activities—involve “running” toward something else, i.e. better grades.

Whereas, the latter 2 in the list

  • Not feeling good enough or not seeing a future in sports—is more about “running” away from something, i.e. negative feelings about your performance.

Since “running” away from something is not a reasonable basis for making a sound decision, it’s the perfect place to try and make a difference.

Perspective is Everything 

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.”

—Wayne Dyer

A person’s perspective definitely shapes the decisions they make. And in the world of sports, the attitudes of coaches, parents, and athletes can make or break the sports journey.

Let’s look at some opposing viewpoints that could be influencing the decisions of girl athletes.

Coaches

As the leader, a coach determines the culture of a team. And his motivation in sport and his reactions to wins and losses dramatically impacts the individual athletes’ experiences.

The coach that needs the win to feel good about himself is an ego-driven coach.  

He often views losses as a personal statement against his competency and looks at others to blame. This attitude does NOT promote a sense of proficiency among his players.

Contrast this with a coach that strives to create an environment in which athletes can do their BEST and have a chance at winning—this is a growth-driven coach and results, although important, are secondary. 

This second approach is better at inspiring athletes to continue long-term in the sports journey.

Parents

All kids desperately desire to please their parents.

When a parent continuously adds pressure before a competition or acts disappointed about a child’s performance, he might be described as an agent-parent.

This parent NEEDS victory because it fits into his master plan for the child’s bio.

On the other hand, the parent that puts the positive experience of her child first and defines success as progress made and lessons learned is considered a witness-parent. She sets up a very supportive setting for the young athlete and helps to make the decision to sign up, season-after-season a no-brainer.

Athletes

When it comes to the individual athlete’s motivation, there seem to be 3 types.

The athlete that NEEDS the win to feel good about herself and seems to ride an emotional roller-coaster that rises and falls with each win or loss is an ego-driven athlete. This creates a lot of internal pressure and very little enjoyment.

A healthier perspective is the process-driven athlete. She strives for the victory but doesn’t tie her self-worth to the scores. She recognizes that there are other priorities—like learning new skills and other less tangible benefits that stem from team participation.

Finally, some athletes are driven by the social aspect. They love the fun of being part of something bigger than themselves. Winning as a team just makes the camaraderie all the better.

The process-driven and socially-driven athletes typically enjoy the journey more than the ego-driven, and so they are more likely to stick with sports longer.

“Every Day Is Your Day”

Changing the statistics for girl athletes happens one athlete, one family, and one team at a time. Keep healthy perspectives—regardless of your role in the youth sports journey—and you might cause a girl to decide to make sports a lifelong adventure.

Check out this video that Mia Hamm, Gatorade, and aspiring soccer star, Mallory Pugh participated in—all to inspire female athletes to enjoy sports for the long haul.

Sport Family Coach at

Founder of Growing Champions for Life, David helps sports parents and coaches incorporate positivity and persistence into their communication with the young athletes who count on their encouragement and guidance. An eight-time national water skiing champion, five-time national record holder in water ski jumping, former World Championship U.S. Water Ski Team coach, and proud professional sports parent, he understands first-hand the challenges and rewards of competition. His extensive experience as a corporate leadership coach for Nextel, Sprint, Allstate, Balfour Beatty, The Villages and other companies provides David with unique insight into the skills needed to excel in sports, business and life. He brings an athlete's discipline, a coach's inspiration, and a parent's practical experience to his mission to grow not just champion young athletes, but holistically well-rounded individuals equipped for lifelong excellence.

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