Nov 30

Why Are Tweens Leaving Youth Sports – Part II

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Alarming News – Inactivity Increases Among Children and Youth

Before I proceed with the topic for this month’s newsletter, here is alarming news from the World Health Organization (WHO) about the increase of inactivity among children and youth. Four in five teens do not exercise enough! More than 80% of global teens don’t get at least one hour of daily exercise (!), according to a UN health agency study. Teens worldwide do not get enough exercise, compromising their current and future health (WHO, November 22, 2019). 

The study conducted by the UN health agency found 81% of adolescents aged between 11 and 17 fail to get at least one hour of moderate to intense daily physical activity such as walking, riding a bike or playing sports! Four in every five adolescents do not experience the enjoyment and social, physical, and mental health benefits of regular physical activity! The report on global trends for adolescent physical activity – the first of its kind – is based on survey data collected on 1.6 million students from 146 countries and territories between 2001 and 2015. The findings are troubling because physical activity is associated with better heart and respiratory function, mental health and cognitive activity, which have implications for student learning (WHO, November 22, 2019).

Call for Action Needed!

Given these disturbing findings, the sporting world should indeed try its best to attract children and youth and enhance sport participation. We need to take into account the reasons cited for sport dropout, provide challenging but learner-friendly environments, improve teaching/coaching and learning methods, and foremost motivate children and teens to remain active in sports.

Children and Youth Are Not Professional Athletes Nor Miniature Adults – Part II 

‘Sports Take Too Much Time’

In the October Newsletter, ‘Losing interest’ and ‘No longer Fun’ are listed as #1 and #2 reasons for youth sport dropout. ‘It took too much time’ was reason #3. That latter finding ought to be of concern for many sports federations because it is also a common complaint from parents! Numerous youth sports require year-round involvement; operate with heavy weekly training schedules and lengthy practices; athletes are required to attend countless competitions or games, and individual sports encounter lengthy duration for competition or they ‘stretch’ over several days (long weekends).

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Here are some examples from my experience as a coach and sports consultant: gymnastics: 10-year-old boy working out 27 hours per week; swimming: young athletes training 2 hours per day in 11-13 sessions per week; hockey: some teams have 120 games, which includes travel games (more than the NHL!); swimming: 3-day meets (Friday session, starting at 4:00 PM; Saturday at 7:30 AM (Warm-up) -1:00 PM; 4:00 PM-8:00 PM; Sunday: ditto Saturday). What about family time, social time, school activities, and study time? What about trying any other sports? NO Time!

…Watching his teenagers compete in a championship swim meet in early June, Polo Trejo was surprised to see USA Swimming ads on large-screen TVs showing kids doing other sports. The video clips of young swimmers playing baseball, soccer, lacrosse and track-and-field and marching in the school band caught Mr. Trejo’s attention because most of the competitive swimmers he knows in California’s Central Valley – including his daughter Alyssa, 18 years old, and son Matthew, 16 – have time only to swim (Potkewitz, 2019)… 

…It’s become a common refrain as more American tweens opt-out of swim teams. From 2013 to 2016, the number of competitive swimmers in the 10-year-old age group dropped by almost 10%, according to USA Swimming, the sport’s governing body, because the sport takes too much time (Potkewitz, 201, citing Simon Simard, The Wall Street Journal, July 2, 2018).

…We know that swimming can be perceived as an all-or-nothing type of sport, and we know that today’s families are busier than ever with activities,” says Matt Farrell, USA Swimming’s chief marketing officer. “So we were facing a choice: Do we want to fight that culture, or decide to own it? (Potkewitz, 2019)… 

So, what can be done to reverse these trends? How do we improve teaching and learning to attract more athletes, and foremost how do we retain them in the specific sport? How can we make sport more FUN? What does it take? 

In early June, USA Swimming launched its new ad campaign showing young swimmers doing other sports, in a move to position itself as a home for multi-sport athletes and gain back some of the kids it has been losing. It is rolling out a new, entry-level membership program called ‘FlexSwim’ for young swimmers ages 5-18, who want to try competitive swimming but commit to only a few days of training a week, and two swim meets a year. In contrast, traditional training for competitive swimmers often means practice every day before school, after school or both, depending on the age group – plus lengthy swim meets on many weekends (Potkewitz, 2019).

The Kalos Model and Multi-sport Incorporation

I firmly believe that all-year-round sports activity, in essence, early specialization before the age of 13 years is detrimental to children’s development. Erik Erikson, a German-American psychologist and psychoanalyst known for his theory on the psychological development of human beings, and most famous for coining the phrase ‘identity crisis’ states that 6-12-year-olds should engage in a smorgasbord of activities – otherwise, they will lack development in their personal movement repertoire. Chris Schwartz, strength and conditioning coach for the NHL Ottawa Senators, said: “my players play hockey but they can’t move.” He likes to get to young athletes early… Why? … Because I am passionate about instilling ‘the fundamentals’ of movement, learning to train, and the importance of general play.”

I had predicted the increase of sport dropout during the mid-1990s, which was then viewed by many coaches in the field and certain sports experts as ‘crazy Schloder’ and ‘being too negative’! Tired of the continuous criticism, I created the eight-year Kalos model, 24 children ages 4.5-5 years, to develop the physical literacy of young swimmers by incorporating multi-sport activities into the swimming program. It is the only one to date worldwide, which follows the progression of young swimmers. AHA! So, “crazy coach Schloder” was actually way ahead of USA Swimming! 

The Kalos program started with 2x 30 minutes of swimming skills and 1x 60 minutes of various multi-sport activities such as recreational gymnastics, body movement and awareness, taught through modified ballet, play-like fencing skills, floor hockey, modified indoor soccer, skipping, hopping, running, jumping, landing skills (when falling), speed skating, throwing and tossing skills, rock climbing (wall), yoga, progressive relaxation, and fitness, among others. 

Swim training increased to 45 minutes by age six and to 60 minutes by age 9-10 while the multi-sport involvement continued 1x per week at 60 minutes. At age 9-10, swim training was conducted 3x per week, followed by 4x per week at age 11-12. Selected multi-sport activities were maintained 1x per week at 60 minutes, combined with a fitness and conditioning program at ages 11-12. 

The children were tested at the onset of the program using the Canadian Fitness Test. They scored far below the norms. However, test scores were way above the national norms (actually off the chart) at the end of the program. Most athletes went on to other sports at the National Junior level. However, those who selected to continue with swimming soon left the sport due to injuries within 6 months (knees and shoulders), while some were told that attendance of 11-13 training sessions was mandatory – otherwise, ‘swim recreation’ with that specific club! Insanity!

Moreover, the success of the Kalos program was based on the careful selection of assistant coaches, who were either physical education graduates or enrolled in the university program at the time and continued to be part of the program after graduation. Together, we developed program philosophy, physical and technical progressions not only in swimming but also in multi-sport activities as each of the 6 female coaches and the male fitness/conditioning coach provided their own expertise in selected activities. My role as the head coach not only included mentorship for all coaches but also incorporating the Canadian National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) as I have been an NCCP Coach Developer in the Canadian system for many years. However, the most significant aspect of this undertaking was the unified approach and philosophy of the coaching staff when making program decisions (without parent interference), and the specialty expertise of each physical education trained coach. 

 ‘Coach is a Poor Teacher?’

Incorporate Various Teaching/Coaching Styles 

‘Coach is a poor teacher’ is the #4 reason for sports dropout whereas ‘If coaches were better teachers’ was reason #5 for getting re-involved in sports. Let’s discuss this because the question is: ‘What makes a good teacher or coach?’ 

First, our teaching/coaching philosophy forms the baseline for our approach with athletes. Second, the way we see them, structure our practice/training sessions, develop their skill progression, and implementation of alternative or cross-training activities is based on that very same philosophical foundation. Third, the teaching and coaching methods/approach reflects the way we deliver the practice which should include implementation of various teaching/coaching styles.

Training young athletes, ages 6-12, requires a multi-teaching/coaching approach because young children are not thus far able to identify their personal learning style whereas older athletes can access various inventories to identify their learning style. It is, however, very common for coaches to use the same style or approach for all participants in a given group because athletes are often grouped homogeneously to ‘save on instructional time.’ This is not beneficial because learning styles and learning rates vary, and generally tend to differ between athletes, and between males and females. Effective delivery of a training session, therefore, becomes a real challenge because one has to include consideration and selection of appropriate styles in the planning process to address the need of the specific group, and/or individual learners. All of us process and perceive information differently, and children do not learn the same way or at the same pace. Furthermore, coaches often train younger athletes the way they themselves were coached during their athletic career (traditional approach). Nevertheless, styles need to be modified or adapted to meet specific individual needs, i.e. fitted to the individual learner or group throughout each session – i.e., try to address each athlete’s learning style at least 2-3 times within the session. Yes, this means, coaches have to acquire a ‘repertoire (broad range) of styles’ for specific ‘learning/teaching moments’ at hand. 

Daily training is designed in the so-called ‘Pre-impact’ planning process in such ways that athletes receive suitable instructions, complimenting individual learning styles at least several times during a given session (Schloder, 2005). This can be accomplished by using the ‘experiential’ learning approach, incorporating flip charts, illustrations, drawings, videos, pictures, mental thought pictures or cues, questioning strategies, holding a dialog or discussion, and varying teaching-coaching styles, etc.

The Spectrum of Teaching Styles

Part of the learning/teaching-coaching paradigm is the ability to incorporate or apply several teaching-coaching styles during daily training. Twelve styles can be used, according to Mosston and Ashworth (1994). The style spectrum is divided into two categories: Reproduction oriented (styles A-E) and Production/Process oriented (styles F-L). 

The A-E Cluster Represent Teacher-centered Styles

Grouping- Reproduction

A Command or Authoritarian Style

B Practice Style

C Reciprocal

D Self-check Style 

E Inclusion Style


1. Purpose

2. Role of the Learner

3. Role of the Teacher/Coach

The A-E Cluster – Teacher-centered Styles

A-Command Style– Do as I say; do this; do that

B-Practice Style– given a skill – practice until you get it

C-Reciprocal Style– using a partner or teammate for assistance and feedback

D-Self-check Style– practice the skill and check off the learned skill on the list

E-Inclusion style– includes poor and stronger performers but modifies the skill expectation (for example 4x25m front crawl versus 4x50m versus 1x100m; all swimmers work on the same skill but with different challenges but finish at the same time).

For example, I use the ‘Inclined Rope’ to teach the High jump 

Lower skilled athletes jump at the low end of the rope; higher skilled athletes at the increased height; athletes can move up/down to suit their skill level

The F-L Cluster – Learner-centered Styles

Grouping- Production/Process Oriented

F Discovery and Guided Discovery Style

G Convergent Style

H Divergent Production Style

I Individual Program – Learner Designed Style

J Learner-Initiated Style

K Self-Teaching Style

F-Discovery Style– discovering and problem-solving

G-Guided Discovery Style– setting up a problem-solving skill = what is the best way to? What do we have to do? 

H-Convergent Discovery Style– setting up a problem-solving skill and engage reasoning using critical thinking and trial and error. Why did this work better than that before? 

I-Divergent Discovery Style– same as the previous but come up with variations or options] 

J-Individual Programming Style– design style (for more advanced athletes – can design their exercise complex [sets in swimming] – could be used as input by younger athletes for drill variation) 

K-Learner-Initiated Style– Learners initiate the skills to be learned/trained

L-Self-teaching Style– more for advanced athletes – Learners recognize readiness to move on with certain skills; design a personal program and perform it for self-development

It is evident that the styles within the ‘Spectrum’ act as a progression from the ‘Command or Authoritarian’ styles to those with lesser teacher-coach control styles until reaching the realization of the self-development stage (Styles K and L – older more experienced or elite athletes). 

In the cluster F-L, the physical, social, cognitive, emotional and moral channels of the individual are addressed, which is not the case in the A-E framework. Would it therefore not make sense to discover how athletes learn and therefore be able to respond better to a given approach or skill set? 

The so-called ‘bottom-up’ or part/part/whole-method approach is mostly used in teaching/coaching sport skills. On the other hand, the ‘top-down or whole’ method may be more successful in certain instances, for example teaching gross-motor patterns of a given skill (teaching the butterfly in swimming: learner already knew the front crawl kick – we added the 2-foot kick, used the 2-arm front crawl with lower and wider elbows, and she moved the body like a dolphin or a wave). The DVD “Fly Away: Progressive – Sequential – Creative – Experiential” demonstrates this approach with a three-year-old beginner (Schloder, 2011). 

The experiential learning, discovery, and/or directed discovery styles are very helpful for using the ‘top-down’ approach as athletes gain insight into what works and what doesn’t. Coaches and athletes alike interchange questions to encourage and foster creativity, analytical thinking, and problem-solving. This approach, on the other hand, requires a large selection of teaching and learning cues, and a variety of creative images; it is more time-consuming in the planning process. Nonetheless, it is also very rewarding in the end because it captures the learner’s interest. According to Joan Vickers, University of Calgary Human Performance Lab, this teaching approach has a greater retention factor than the bottom up or part/part-whole method. 

Sports skills can also be divided into two different categories: ‘closed’ and ‘open’ skills. The former takes place under fixed, unchanging environmental conditions. They are predictable with a clearly defined beginning and ending points. Examples are: shooting a free throw, serving a tennis ball, throwing a dart, and swimming in a pool. ‘Open’ skills usually take place under conditions of a temporarily changing environment. Decisions and adjustments have to be made ‘on the run.’ An example would be a quarterback adjusting his throwing based on the location of defensive players.

Cater to Individual Differences and Make the Difference

Now, think about the way you teach or coach. Do you notice or even know the way you affect athletes, especially when changes take place during their growth and development or during injuries? As already discussed, a wide range of individual learning differences is apparent among younger ages, and even more evident during adolescence (14 years and upward). As stated in the previous newsletter, the developmental age can fluctuate by as much as two years within the chronological age in either direction. This means, for example, a 10-year-old can be in the range from 8 to 12 years in his/her developmental age. Most Junior High school teachers have many a tale on that famously trying period of growing up! Every aspect of athletes’ lives is affected and that includes sports activities.

Coaches have to be mindful of such occurrence and identify the potential impact on performance levels and/or scheduling competition events for younger athletes so they can actually master the challenge physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Indeed, emotional maturity may be a real factor when deciding on the kind of competition the athlete should partake. These considerations also pertain to the planning of day-to-day coaching. Is an athlete(s) truly ready or does only the coach think so or the parent[s]? In the end, it is the perception of personal efficacy, competence, self-esteem, and mental factors that make the difference for performance readiness.

The Skill Acquisition Model

The ‘art’ of teaching and coaching (pedagogy) is a process and combines the positive interaction of both teaching and learning. It includes the use of the teaching/coaching ‘toolbox’, comprised of organizational tasks, progressive and sequential drills ranging from simple to complex. 

…I learned long ago that teaching/coaching and learning is an intricate process. One’s success depends upon the ability to adjust, modify, create, and to not be afraid to experiment. ‘Same ole-same ole’ approach is boring and just does not work or motivate! It may include some ‘risk-taking’ and sometimes may not be what everyone else is doing or expecting you to do (Schloder, 2015).

…Drill training has to have purpose and meaning but also provide challenges! Drill variety is created from the base repertoire of drills but needs to link and transfer from the specific warm-up complex (set of exercises) to the specific technical skill training that follows. I refer to this as the skills and thrills” section to encourage creativity and empower athletes. For this reason, I designed the Skill Acquisition Model to enhance skill training with the objective for athletes to understand (comprehend) the purpose of a given skill or movement (Below: Refer to the included Skill Acquisition Model).


Erikson, E. (n.d.). Information Wikipedia. Retrieved November 19, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erik_Erikson

Hedstrom, R., & Gould, D. (2004). Research in youth sports: Critical issues status. White Paper summary of the existing literature. Institute of the study of youth sports. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University. Retrieved October 19, 2019, from http://www.hollistonsoccer. org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/CriticalIssuesYouthSports-2.pdf

Petlichkoff, L.M. (1992). Youth sport participation and withdrawal: Is it simply a matter of FUN? Pediatric Exercise Science, 4(2), 105-110. DOI: doi.org/10.1123/ped.4.2.105 Retrieved October 19, 2019, from https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/pes/4/2/article-p105.xml

Potkewitz, H. (2018, July 2). USA Swimming flips for multi-sport youth athletes. Fighting declining numbers, the swimming governing body offers more flexible options for children who want to do other sports. Retrieved November 11, 2019, from https://www.wsj.com/ articles/usa-swimming-flips-for-multisport-youth-athletes-1530538198

Reuters News (2019, November 22).

Schloder, M.E. (2011). Fly Away. The butterfly stroke in swimming. Progressive. Sequential. Creative. Experiential. DVD.

Schloder, M.E. (2006). Lecture Series. KNES 245. Sociology of Sport: Children and parents in sport. Calgary, AB, Canada. University of Calgary. Faculty of Kinesiology.

Schloder, M.E. (2005). Lecture Series. KNES 468. Teaching physical education in secondary schools. Teacher Preparation. Calgary, AB, Canada. University of Calgary. Faculty of Kinesiology.

Schwartz, C. (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2019, from https://nationalpost.com/sports/hockey/nhl/the-downside-of-year-round-hockey-ottawa-senators-strength-coach-warns-of-declining-athleticism-among-youth

Vickers, J.N. (2003). Decision training: an innovative approach to coaching. Canadian Journal for women in coaching, 3(3), 3-9.

Vickers, J.N. (1990). Instructional design for teaching physical education: A knowledge structures approach. Champaign, ILL: Human Kinetics.

Weiss, M.R., & Petlichkoff, L.M. (1989). Pediatric Exercise Science, 1(3), 195-211. Children’s motivation for participation in and withdrawal from sport: Identifying the missing links. Retrieved October 19, 2019, from DOI: https://doi.org/10.1123/pes.1.3.195

WHO, DW Made for minds, & cw/stb (AFP, Reuters) (2019, November 22). Four in five teens do not exercise enough. Retrieved November 22, 2019, from https://www.dw.com/en/four-in-five-teens-do-not exercise-enough-who/a-51360732

Zentner, C., & Mann, M. (Ed.). Shifting perspectives: Transition from coach-centered to athletes challenges faced by a coach and athlete. The Journal of Athlete Centered Coaching, 1(2). October 1. October 1. Denton, TX: Summit Edu Publishing.

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