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Why do kids drop out of grassroots sport

Why do kids drop out of grassroots sport

Guest blog written by Stewart England, Co-Owner of Football DNA & Experienced Football Performance Analyst

Tips for coaches and parents/carers to help counter disengagement in youth football.


Teen boy sat at the edge of a football pitch with head in hand looking sad

In this blog, we will explore why children play sport and also, more crucially, why they choose to disengage and leave youth sport behind.

We all know that participation in sport and exercise has a wide range of both physical and mental benefits. Children enter sports because they want to have fun, play and build new friendships. We will explore why children may want to stop playing football and how as parents/carers, coaches or supporters we can help keep their love for grassroots’ football alive.

Children leaving football and developing a negative relationship with the sport can have a detrimental effect later in their life. Therefore it is important to look at what we can do now to help ensure that children do not leave the sport for the wrong reasons, and in some cases never return to it as an adult.

Why do children play grassroots’ football?

Participating in football at grassroots’ level can help young children develop key skills; such as collaboration, positive competitiveness and co-ordination. These skills that they develop will help aid their personal development and help support them both socially, academically and professionally as they grow up. 

Football can provide children with an opportunity to develop the skills that they need within a team environment. Not only will children learn how to function within a group, giving them a greater understanding of how to collaborate through how they support and communicate with their peers, they will also learn the benefits of hard work and determination. Losing matches and using defeat as a constructive learning technique is also a vital life skill.

Role models can well and truly inspire young children to achieve. With watching football and influencers so widely accessible across multiple digital channels, children can build a connection to these idols. Role models can be paramount in children establishing a lifelong relationship to engaging in football, with so many children wanting to replicate the success of who they watch on screen or in the stadium.

Football can help individuals build a sense of identity and belonging within a team. A team kit can forge a strong sense of unity and reinforces that positive feeling we get from being part of a wider collective with a common goal. Again, hopefully a feeling we would want children to try and replicate later in life to avoid isolation and loneliness.

Why do children quit sport?

So with all of this in mind, why do children dis-engage with sport? In a poll by @BelievePHQ some of the main reasons children leave sport are:

- It’s not fun anymore

- Pressure to perform

- Not enough playing time

- It’s too competitive

- Too much emphasis on winning

- Afraid to make mistakes

- Not interested in sport anymore (other time distractions)

- Perceived lack of competence

Whether you’ve played or been coaching, I am sure a majority of us can relate to the above reasons why children leave the sport. Many of the above are all reasons that we can affect as coaches and also in some part as parents/carers too.

How to prevent dropout in youth football

As coaches, we must look at some of the reasons highlighted above why children leave playing football and explore how we can affect these. Whether it’s children leaving the sport because of lack of enjoyment or there being too much of an emphasis on winning – coaches can play a pivotal role in creating an environment that continues their love of playing football.


football coach talking to young players who are sat in ground in front of him.

Here are some of the top tips to ensure children don’t disengage from wanting to play football: 

Make your sessions FUN!

As players become older and the focus becomes more around winning games – this is when the fun and enjoyment can begin to creep out of the environment. Coaches must continue to find ways to make their sessions fun and enjoyable where they play with a smile on their face. Coaches that have fun themselves and reflect on: did they enjoy it? Have they left with a smile on their face? Will they be excited to come back for the next session or game? Questions like this can aid coaches in how they reflect and always ensure they make fun and enjoyment a cornerstone of their environment.

Take a look at the Fast Dribble & Ball Control Teamwork Game for a fun way to engage the kids.

 Creating a positive learning environment

Coaches should look to establish and maintain a positive learning environment for their young people. Developing your non-negotiables for your players, parents and coaches can help to establish an environment that prioritises safety, learning and respect. This will help to ensure children have psychological safety within the environment and can express and be themselves.

 Equal opportunities for all 

As highlighted above, one of the reasons that children quit playing football is because they no longer feel part of the team. Children can be left out, not given opportunities in games and this can build disengagement and lead to them losing connection with their team. Coaches should look to provide opportunities for all and be conscious of leaving players out of their team or always having the same players as a substitute.

 Parent engagement

Engaging with parents will certainly help in keeping children engaged with playing football. In our Podcast and Blog with Richard Shorter, 

Richard provides some brilliant advice to parents on how they can support their child in playing football. Pressure from the sidelines and too much of a focus on winning can create an environment where children are risk-averse and anxious when playing football. Coaches need to establish clear non-negotiables and continually engage with parents around how they can support their children. A code of conduct that parents agree to and is revisited is one way to help create the right environment for young players.

Check out the no nonsense Sports Parent Code of Conduct from @BelievePHQ to help educate parents and supporters on their behaviour from the sidelines.

Level of challenge 

Ensuring children get a varied level of challenge will also help children to build their confidence and maintain their interest in playing football. If children are placed in an environment that is continuing to challenge or is too difficult, this can lead to children losing confidence and not feeling good enough. Children need to learn to lose, but we must provide them also with the opportunity to succeed and feel confident. Coaches should be encouraged to find different types of games and practices, both in training and on match days, that balance easier drills with harder stretch challenges for the children.

Take a look at some examples of different levels of coaching sessions, from easy to hard. (Easy) (Medium) (Hard)

We’d be very interested to hear your feedback on this, or any coaching or parenting points related to it in the comments?


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