Children are dropping out of sport in droves between the ages of 12 and 15, and the principal reason they give researchers is that they are no longer having fun.

What they consider ‘fun’ can change as children develop. Several researchers have tried to define the concept with one suggesting that younger children associate movement sensations as a source of enjoyment, while older children find enjoyment in the social recognition of competence and the experience of encouragement, excitement and challenge.

So what robs our children of this ‘fun’? There can be many elements in the mix — dislike of the coach, overemphasis on winning, burnout, competing priorities — but one commonly cited culprit is parental pressure.

parents watching soccer game

We have all seen or heard the ‘ugly parent’ who loudly offers an opinion, abuses officials, provides ‘sideline coaching’, or even initiates altercations with other spectators.Yet pressure on children is not always so obvious.

An informal survey conducted across 30 years by two former long-time coaches in America asked hundreds of college athletes what their worst memory was from playing youth and high school sports.

Overwhelmingly they replied that it was the ride home from the game with their parents.

The majority of parents who make this ride home miserable do so inadvertently. Their conversation about the game can range from observations about coaching decisions, officiating decisions, the skill levels of other players, and even questioning why their child forgot the techniques and strategies they’ve been practicing.

On that ride home, children transition from fun-loving and exhausted player back to pressured child while their parents continue to ‘sideline coach’, and sometimes continue to do so until the following week’s game. Many kids will reach the conclusion that if they quit the sport they might get their mother or father back.

Children have told researchers that they much more enjoy having their grandparents watch them play because they are simply enthusiastic spectators and are more likely to offer a smile and a hug and simply say, ‘I love watching you play’.

Here are some tips on how parents can make the car ride home more enjoyable:

  • let the child initiate a conversation about the game when they’re ready or have a question
  • provide answers that are mindful and don’t carry an element of blame or lead into a longer conversation about the quality of the game
  • help children see the big picture rather than focusing on one single event to make the trip home more enjoyable for everyone.

For more information, visit Play by the Rules