Research — 20 October 2014

COACHES and parents are being urged to monitor the mental health of kids who drop out of sport.

New research shows that children who abandon organised sport between the ages of eight and 10 are at high risk of mental health problems before they hit high school – up to 20 per cent greater risk than kids who keep playing sport.

The study which was presented at the Sports Medicine Australia convention on Friday in Canberra estimates that 250,000 Australian children opt out of organised sport each year and the drop out rate in eight to 10s is rising 10 per cent each year. Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows 1.7m kids are involved in sport.

Lead author Dr Stewart Vella of the University of Wollongong was surprised by the magnitude of the risks.


* 250,000 kids dropping out of sport annually.

* Drop-outs aged 8 to 10 are up to 20 per cent more at risk.

* Psychological problems can show within three years.

* 50 per cent of mental issues hit before age 14.

“While we were expecting our results to confirm the negative psychological consequences of dropping out of organised sport, we were surprised by the magnitude of the differences, with the total relative increase of risk in mental health problems within three years for kids who drop out between 10 to 20 per cent,” Dr Vella said.

“Clubs, coaches, parents and health practitioners should look out for kids experiencing psychological difficulties who drop out of sport.”

Queensland child expert and psychologist Dr Judith Locke is concerned by the grim findings.

“These days many kids give up sports because they aren’t always scoring goals or doing well,” she said. “Also parents, who are ego involved in their child’s achievements or agreeing with all of their child’s wishes might allow this. I believe all children any age should be playing some type of team sport. Individualistic sports such as swimming are good but the sports that have your children working with other children are probably highly beneficial.”

A big concern for the researchers was the projected rate of sports dropouts among Australian children.

“Based on the dropout rates per year recorded during our study – if this number was to remain consistent throughout childhood and adolescence – it would translate to approximately 250,000 young Australians dropping out of organised sports every year,” Dr Vella said.

Lucy Cook from the Gold Coast is mum to four boys, aged 15, 12 and twins Nicholas and Harry Nairn, 10. She believes cost and the stress of competition are big factor in children dropping out of sport.

“When the children are younger it is usually an ‘everyone wins’ scenario. When they hit eight to 10, things can get a little more competitive,” she said.

“But from my experience with my boys, participation is essential for their wellbeing. They learn resilience, social skills, compromise, all kinds of necessary life skills – never mind the physical benefits.”

This article first appeared on ‘Courier Mail’ on 19 October 2014.


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