Why Is My Child Losing Interest In Sports?

Kids quit – or say they want to – for all sorts of reasons.

Asia Mape

| 6 min read

As parents, it’s hard to sit back and watch as your once sports-crazed kid slowly – or suddenly – decides they are no longer interested in sports. One day, they can’t wait to go to practice; they won’t stop dribbling the ball in the house and begging you to go to the park, and now it seems as though they want nothing to do with a basketball (or football or soccer ball or…).  This can become an extreme source of frustration and even sadness for parents who have put a lot of time, money, and support toward their child’s extracurricular activities.

But don’t get upset with your child; instead, get curious. Listen to them and do some research on your own. Oftentimes, there are underlying reasons a child might lose their motivation.

Here are 7 reasons your child may be losing their interest in sports:

1. Is it age-appropriate? 
They are kids. If it’s not fun, they may lose interest if adults professionalize their practices. When this happens, consistency around effort and desire to compete can be a challenge for children under 14. As Dr. Patrick Cohn, a leading sports psychologist, states, “Kids are not mini-adults. They are still developing physically, emotionally, and mentally”. It’s crucial to remember that it’s normal for younger children to have fluctuations in their motivation and interest levels.  Try to avoid yelling at them or discussing it too often, or you may be pushing them toward quitting instead of motivating them. Even if you get immediate results, it won’t do anything for their long-term motivation.

2. Are there any underlying issues at hand?
One friend spent several soccer seasons getting frustrated at her son for what she felt was his ‘lack of effort.’ She explained that on the soccer field, he was never running hard, he wasn’t trying, and it looked like he didn’t care. Then, one day, at a routine checkup, he was diagnosed with mild asthma. Another friend shared that her daughter’s coach was constantly complaining that her daughter was being disruptive at volleyball practice. She wouldn’t pay attention to the drills and was goofing off all the time. She was later diagnosed with ADD and, after getting the support she needed, went on to become a fierce competitor and a leader on the team.

3. Is it the wrong sport?
Just because most kids start in soccer and tee-ball, that doesn’t mean they are the right sports for your child long-term, even if they experienced success. Every child has their own mental and physical makeup and tolerance level. Some kids, no matter what, will never want to tackle another child, body-check them, or even box them out. And some kids love being physical. Others may play team sports just for camaraderie and being social, whereas others dread the social, group aspect of team sports. Running cross country or swimming for hours on end in silence is a much different experience than slapping high fives between every point on the volleyball court or doing cheers from the dugout in softball. Each sport demands and requires its own unique set of personality traits and characteristics. So, make sure your child’s whole person is best suited for their sport.

4. Are they burnt out?
This can be temporary or long-term. They might play one sport or multiple sports, it doesn’t matter. Kids today are doing so much. Oftentimes, they are mentally and physically exhausted and may not even realize it themselves. They are running from school to sports, to extra workouts, to homework, and then wake up in the morning and do it all over again. Repeated for months at a time, this will take its toll. They will consciously or subconsciously realize they can’t possibly be giving 100% effort in everything all day long. So, to self-regulate, they will start to pull back slightly from some of their activities. This can appear to be laziness or lack of motivation when really it’s survival. If this sounds like your kid, you may need to do some soul-searching and figure out what you can cut out of their busy schedules and give them some time off.

5. Are they afraid to fail?
Well-intentioned parents and coaches can inadvertently kill motivation by overpraising or pressuring kids. Telling them they are athletically gifted and praising them for things out of their control causes kids to internalize their abilities as fixed and not something they can improve upon. Thereby, they experience struggle as failing (See research by Carol Dweck and growth mindset). The subconscious thought process goes if I’m not trying hard or giving it my all, then I’m not really failing. When the going gets tough, they pull back – thereby keeping their ‘good’ status intact. Whereas kids praised for their EFFORT view struggles as challenges, another opportunity to overcome or improve upon their last game or practice.

6. Support vs. pressure.
When parents and coaches cross the line from support to pressure, they strip away the fun and the ownership for an athlete. It creates a pressure cooker situation that demotivates children. It can also result in resentment and conflict in the child/parent relationship.  Additionally, using fear or intimidation tactics may get results in the short term, but it’s toxic in the long term. Doing something to avoid being yelled at is a much different experience than doing something because you’re inspired or excited by a challenge.

7. They find other passions.
Sometimes, a child loses interest in their sport because it’s not their passion, and they find other things that interest them. This should be supported. Keeping sports as a hobby and not a full-time job is a great balance. Sports are not for everyone. They weren’t for my daughter, even though she was a gifted athlete.  What we want shouldn’t be the driving force, it needs to be what they want and what they love.


Asia Mape runs ilovetowatchyouplay.com, a site for parents who want to raise happy, healthy and successful athletes. A version of this story appeared on that site first.

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