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Burnout by age 13? A look at the dropout rate in youth sports

Posted at 5:00 PM, Jun 07, 2024

GREEN BAY — The number of young athletes who quit organized sports altogether by their teenage years, might surprise you.

  • 70 percent of young athletes drop out of organized sports by the age of 13, according to the book Changing the Game
  • The professionalization of youth sports is widely seen as responsible for the intense training and the specialization in a single sport the can lead to physical injury and mental burnout, according to a report in the journal "Pediatrics"
  • Watch the video to hear from a national champion athlete who stuck with sports, a high school coach, and a psychotherapist who specializes in sports

Lexi Olinske started playing basketball at 5 years old, and she stuck with it.

"There were a lot of us who played in the same programs from the time were 5 all the way until we were in high school," Olinske said.

In that way, Olinske is actually an outlier, because according to the book Changing the Game, 70 percent of young athletes drop out of organized sports by the age of 13.

Charles LaTorre is a Bellin Health psychotherapist who specializes in sport performance and sport coaching.

He said part of the sport dropout trend is the so-called professionalization of youth sports.

"Now there [are] all these leagues, the competition, and for some people they learn at an early age, 'This isn't what I want,'" LaTorre said.

Dave Mathiew, an assistant varsity football coach at Menominee Area Public Schools in Michigan, echoed that idea.

"I think a big part of [the dropout rate] is that people get too competitive at too young of an age, maybe too many travel teams... maybe kids get a little bit burned out," Mathiew said.

Professionalization of Youth Sports

A report in the journal "Pediatrics" says the professionalization of youth sports is widely seen as responsible for the intense training and the specialization in a single sport the can lead to physical injury and mental burnout.

LaTorre said depending on the child, dropping out of sports can be healthy.

"'I thought this was going to be fun, this isn't fun,'" Latorre said some young athletes might think.

But LaTorre said sticking with sports could bring benefits like built-in friendships.

He pointed to the idea of a rising high school freshman who joins the cross country team, and has the opportunity to make friends at summer practice before the first day of high school.

LaTorre said if someone had a bad experience with a sport, but wants to be involved in sports for the possible friendships that can be made, the young athlete could simply try a different sport.

Multiple Sports; National Champion

Olinske played more than baskeball. And it was in track & field that she became a national champion in college in the 800 meter run.

At the Kroc Center in Green Bay, she works to inspire children to get involved in sports.

"Really we want to focus on developing sportsmanship, the fundamentals of that sport, and helping them find their fun, or their passion in that sport," Olinske said.