As parents we all have our reasons when we sign our child up for their first season of youth sports. Maybe we want them to make new friends, play a sport we loved as kids, or get them more active. And while most kids will try a season or two of sports just because mom and dad want them to, at a certain age kids have to actually WANT to play for themselves. But what makes a young athlete want to play? Why do they love sports? (Hint: it’s not just so you can relive your childhood!
A Michigan State University study asked boys and girls aged 10 to 12 why they played sports. Here are the top five reasons they gave:
1. To have fun.
2. To do something I’m good at.
3. To improve my skills.
4. To stay in shape.
5. To get exercise.
Notice how “to get a college scholarship” is nowhere on that list? Plenty of sports parents sign their 6-year-old up for Little League and see full-rides to a D1 school in their future. However, only about three in 50 (6.4%) of high school senior boys will go on to play men’s baseball in college (and those are actually some of the best odds in any sport). Nine in 100 of NCAA senior male baseball players (a whole 9%!) will ultimately get drafted by an MLB team. That means that approximately one in 200 high school senior boys will eventually be drafted by an MLB team. So while you may dream of a pro career for your child (and they can certainly dream of it for themselves), the odds are not in their favor. But as you can see by the Michigan State survey, “going pro” is not a top reason why young kids choose to play youth sports.
And interesting enough, “to win” was rated 8th for school-sponsored sports and wasn’t even listed by non-school sport participants (intramurals, free play, etc.)! Even at the high school level, most kids would rather play on a losing team than sit on the bench of a winning one. Of course no one likes to lose, either close or by a landslide, and while winning certainly feels great, it seems like most kids aren’t playing just because they want a wall full of trophies. Although we would certainly love to see a survey that asked kids about participation awards. Do they even care about getting a “Thanks for playing” award? When they get a little older which awards do they actually want to keep? Which awards do they remember winning? Knowing how kids feels about participation awards would certainly help settle that long-running debate.