The Sports Attrition Problem. It’s Real.

Participation in sports doesn’t dwindle, it falls off a cliff.  

As we pour over research, data, and analyses about community health and active living we see new studies daily. But, there is one stat that we return to every week: 70% of kids quit playing sports by the time they’re 13

But, why? Well, it’s been the subject of much research over the past decade and we’ve got the answer pretty well figured out. Put simply: “It’s just not fun anymore.” But that hardly does the problem justice.

We think about it as a problem of simple economics: supply and demand. Demand for youth sports is high and supply is nearly equally high. The load is shared by YMCA’s, Parks Departments, and other community organizations. Right around 5th grade, schools begin to monopolize sports, players get cut, and the fun gets sucked out for many. The supply of sports opportunities falls off a cliff and kids who were active one year are cut and left without options the next. And it’s at a time when kids need sports more than ever… middle school. 

Washington Post parenting expert, Julianna Miner, summed it up beautifully. “It’s not fun anymore because it’s not designed to be,” wrote Miner. “Our culture no longer supports older kids playing just for the fun of it.” We’re taking away a powerful outlet for physical and mental health at an early age and failing to replace it. We wonder why communities aren’t active… well, they’re taught not to be. 

We can either continue to ignore the problem or step up to the challenge with some solutions. 

What can we do?

Solution 1: The Warm Handoff.

On the field of play it happens all the time. A volleyball flies across the net at low speed between two players. The timid players look at each other as the ball slowly falls to the ground between them. The coach would be furious. “Communicate!” she’d scream. That’s what’s happening at the community level. We’re dropping the ball and not communicating well.

RAND Corporation, in a study published last year, had some amazing and practical advice for community leaders hoping to reduce attrition in sports participation… It’s all about communication. At Playon, we call the idea the “warm handoff.” Essentially, we convene a working group of stakeholders from education, community leadership, and extramural sport associations (YMCA, etc). The group develops a community-specific plan to ensure junior athletes are handed-off to senior athletic opportunities as they age. Outcomes of such a group can be as simple as clearly-posted extramural sports opportunities inside the schools, or equipping school counselors with the knowledge to promote an active lifestyle in middle school.

Solution 2: Ease of Access.

In a world where all opportunities are collected and served up online, the sports world is lagging well behind. To ensure our young athletes stay involved, we need to look to technology and meet them right where they are… on their phones. Playon offers one such technological solution, where your community can offer its full array of athletic options (even pick-up games and ad-hoc leagues) to everyone who might be interested. This sort of access and transparency is key to educating our young athletes about their options.  

Solution 3: Better-Informed Decisions.  

Remember that supply problem we talked about? When 62 young athletes get cut from the middle school volleyball team, that’s an injection of 62 customers into the marketplace of community sports. But, instead of connecting with an extramural league, they fall slip through the cracks of the community, forever changing their health trajectory. 

But, what if the YMCA, Parks Department, Boys & Girls Club, and every other community group had instant access to the data? What if the Y knew they had 62 14-year-old girls raring to play volleyball? What if the Parks knew there were 77 16-year-old boys just sitting at home, wishing they could play soccer? How much would that data change things for your community? 

Playon Communities is dedicated to creating a pipeline for data between players and organizations at the community level. Armed with those insights, organizations can spin up leagues to meet the demands of junior athletes and follow them all the way into adulthood. Just imagine it. 

So, what can you do next?

Sure, we all want to be more active individuals and have a more active community, but wishing and wanting doesn’t make it so. At Playon, we look closely at the relationship between sport and equality. With a little creativity and the help of technology, a community can use athletics to set the tone for equity in all elements of life. Our program, and the technology behind it, gives your community instant access to physical activity and sports and brings you all closer together.

Want to know what's happening with Playon? Subscribe and be informed.