“Drop it like its hot”: Female drop out rates in youth sport

by Paige H.

Growing up in a small town, there was NOTHING else to do but play sports. All of my friends played sports. My parents had never had the opportunity to participate in organized sport, so they really pushed it on my sister and I as soon as we were old enough to register. We were registered in everything and anything going, and travelling to the nearest city, 45 minutes away for some of our activities. By the time we hit high school, we had settled on three sports each.

My town has a population of about 1,500 people. It seemed like everybody and their dog played summer soccer or elementary school level basketball. Once we hit the local high school, for grade 7, it seemed as if nobody was playing anymore. The same girls that I had always played with throughout elementary school were no longer interested in playing sports. At the time this struck me so odd, like what else are you going to do with your time if you aren’t at practice or a game several nights a week? What do you do with all your free time on the weekends if you’re not traveling away for a tournament or fundraising for your own? I mean don’t get me wrong, we still had lives outside of sport, but the girls that we had always played with were the girls who made our friend group so it was a major change.

As my high school years passed by, even fewer girls were coming to tryouts, so much so that if you showed up for tryouts you basically made the team. In my grade 11 basketball season, there were no returning grade 12 senior players, and only myself and one other girl playing in grade 11. They had to bump up the JV team to varsity level so that she and I had a team to play on. “Playing up” was a popular thing at my high school, as there were never enough girls for a full team, so we always had to bump up the younger girls to fill in the spots. The girls that I played soccer with in the fall were the girls that were on the basketball team and made up the volleyball team as well. There really weren’t any other girls that came into the mix and the core 12 of us made up the girls varsity athletics at my high school.

Youth dropping out of sport isn’t just happening in rural New Brunswick towns, but rather it’s a widespread phenomenon. The rates for youth drop from sport out are higher amongst girls than boys. Why is this happening?

There are a few reasons why, including a combination of lack of opportunity, lack of peer group support and lack of encouragement that causes girls to drop out of sports at a rate that is almost two times greater than boys. That being said, athletic participation benefits girls just as much as it does boys. Some of these benefits include increased self-esteem, developing positive social networks, and competency. Across all ages, boys are more likely to participate in sports than girls, and girls’ participation rates decrease at a far more rapid rate than boys do. But why is this happening? Young people tend to discontinue their involvement in sports for one of two major reasons (Slater & Tiggemann, 2010). The first is interest in and conflicts with other activities. There is only so much time in a day for these kids, and they may be broadening their horizons and contributing to their leisure repertoire by participating in other activities. The other major category focuses on the negative and overly professionalized qualities of organized youth sports programs. Some of the reasons include lack of playing time, lack of success, little skill improvement, high pressure to perform or win, dislike of the coach and lack of fun (Slater & Tiggemann, 2010). These reasons are not gender specific though; girls specifically stated reasons including losing interest, lack of competence, insufficient time, crossing traditional gender boundaries, appearing “butch” or too “masculine”, and how their bodies look in the uniform of that particular sport (Slater & Tiggemann, 2010). Out of the reasons mentioned, the one that I found to be most interesting was how their bodies looked in a certain uniform. Keep in mind that the average drop out rate for girls among sport aligns with the typical age of the peak of puberty, where they are undergoing major body changes and may not be comfortable with how their body is.

Coming from a small town, I understand lack of opportunities and how that can become a major barrier for children and adolescents as they potentially further their time in sports. There were no girls hockey teams in my area, although there are/were SO many boys teams, no middle level (grade 7&8) girls rugby teams and etc. The intimidation of having to “play up” could have been a factor for many, and there being very few understanding female coaches or role models to look up to. Not every situation is like the ones I’ve seen or come from, but obviously this is a piece to a much larger puzzle that is affecting youth girls in sport participation today.


Slater, A., & Tiggemann, M. (January, 2010). “Uncool to do sport”: A focus group study of adolescent girls’ reasons for withdrawing from physical activity. Psychology of Sport & Exercise, 11, 6, 619-626.

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6 Responses to “Drop it like its hot”: Female drop out rates in youth sport

  1. johareid says:

    Great post Paige! I definitely have to agree with your post where going into a higher level could have been more intimidating for girls and lack of role models! But it’s funny, from my experience in rural Prince Edward Island, it was similar in some sports but a bit different in other sports.

    I don’t want to say I specialized in a certain sport but for sports outside of school, I mostly focused on hockey. I started hockey when I was 4 and continued playing competitively up until I finished grade 12. Both my siblings and father played hockey as well, so we were a hockey family. I started out on a co-ed team but once I turned 7 (novice age), the aged 10-12 (atom age) girls were looking for more girls to play and since my sister was the goaltender, I was asked to play. Personally, I wasn’t intimidated because I basically knew everyone already because it was such a small community. I feel as though this is where I learned important hockey development skills because I had to play up to a higher level than I was used to. Somehow, I was one of the best players on the team! Once I had developed these skills, I started playing competitive hockey where the team was made up of girls from 4 different arenas. This is probably a reason I rarely saw any drop out because I was playing at a higher level where the players wanted to be there and wanted to work hard.

    As for school sports, I played soccer, track and field, cross country, and rugby. Most of these sports had a lot of dropout rates where people wouldn’t have time with the amount of activities involved in such as student council, yearbook, etc. The only sport I continued to play outside of high school was rugby. With a school consisting of grades 7-12 and only 360 students, sometimes it was tough to get numbers out for such a physical game that needed 15 players on the field at once. In my grade 11 year, we had to cancel the team because there weren’t enough numbers. It was devastating. This experience is where I can really relate to your post, Paige! I think a lot of it for rugby would have been intimidation to even try the sport. But trust me, once you try it, you’ll never want to stop!

    Johanna R.

  2. Jessica W. says:

    I completely agree with you Paige. Although I’m not from a small town I did notice a big drop in participation within sports that I played. My experience in sport growing up was much like yours, I was signed up for every sport possible and it wasn’t until Grade 10 that I settled for two sports. Ringette was the sport that I saw the biggest drop out rates, and just like you said it happened around the age of puberty. The causes behind ringette players dropping out could potentially be from feeling self-conscious. Ringette is a sport mainly played by girls therefore, players are always comparing themselves to others. Also, once I reached high school it seemed as if everyone on my ringette team was switching to hockey to play at the varsity level. This could have potentially been because of loss of interest and wanting to try something new. From all the girls switching and quitting ringette the numbers decreased dramatically and we almost didn’t have enough for a team. Younger youth were constantly asked to move up however they were only asked to play a few games per year. This is still a common trend that happens in the ringette community today, additionally there is an even bigger need for ringette goalies. Therefore, younger youth are constantly being asked to “play up” due to the drop out rates and lack of goalies. Despite the potential drop out rates in players who are pressured to “play up” I do believe that it could have a positive outcome for youth to learn more skills and become a better player.

    Great job!

    Jessica W.

  3. swatson12 says:

    Great article Paige! I loved your catchy title!

    I think this is a very interesting topic both coming from a small community and playing sports all during my middle and high school years. I can say from my own experience that many girls did drop out as we got into high school for many of the same reasons that you had listed. Two of the ones that you had mentioned were lack of time and lack of success.

    I think these are both very important because as you get into higher grades so does your years participating and usually comes with having to delegate your time since they start to take up more time with increased number of games and practices. I know that many girls who were involved in dance also started to travel to places such as Fredericton to increase their competition level as they got older leaving less time for school sports or the interest to be part of them. Lack of success is another one that stuck out to me because it seemed if someone did not make the team one year they would never try out again for that sport. This made it so that once we got to Grade 12 there was not as many girls coming out to try-outs that had loved that sport in the past. This is a sad thought when they might not have been at the skill level when they were in Grade 9 but after a couple years when they were ready they no longer wanted to have to face the failure of not making the team so they did not even try.

    Again I think this is a great article and a topic that should be investigated more to improve. After you get out of sport it is hard to get back into it. We want our girls to stay active for life and not stop playing sports or being active at an early age.

  4. akenny1 says:

    I also had a similar experience with sports growing up. Like you said, everyone and their dog seemed like they were playing soccer when I younger. My parents basically had to register me ahead of time to make sure there would be enough room for me on a summer soccer team. I started playing soccer when I was 4 and in grade 5, I started to play at a competitive level. When I started playing soccer, I made a totally different friend group, compared to my friend group at school. We all shared similar interests and I believe that is why we were all able to make friends so easily.
    Every year I continued in soccer, more and more of my friends “quit”. I think sport specialization had a lot to do with this because most of my friends stopped playing soccer so they could focus more on another sport.
    In my grade 12 year, my team had managed to fill a full roster. However, with work commitments and other things going on, we often didn’t have enough players for game days. Thankfully, there were a few girls that we regularly called up to come play with us. It never seemed fair to me because the girls that we called up often seemed out of place because they weren’t use to our style of play or didn’t gel as well with our team on the field. This could be due to the intimidation factor your had mentioned.
    I now play soccer at the university level and I can only think of 1 other girl from my soccer team that still plays soccer.

    Awesome job Paige!

  5. kepo00157 says:

    Great piece Paige! It was very thought provoking and very well written.

    I, like you, am from a small town with limited resources and opportunities. There are a total of 4 middle schools and 2 high schools in the immediate area, so teams were often times traveling on average 1- 2 hours away for league games and tournaments. My Dad growing up was never put into any youth or sport programs, and resents his parents for never giving him the chance to participate. My Dad always told my siblings and I that he would make sure we would be signed up for and supported in any sport we wanted to try. I had tried gymnastics, swimming, dancing and a number of other activities before a core interest in 4 main sports were developed; basketball, volleyball, soccer and tae kwon do. Throughout the years, the girls that I participated in the sports with slowly diminished. In this particular case, it was due to growing interest in boys and not wanting to be seen as “masculine”. These girls wanted to spend their time doing makeup, shopping and making themselves available to the guys in our town. Puberty and self-confidence/esteem played a major roll in the drop out of my teammates. However, the one sport that didn’t fall in numbers was volleyball. Personally, I feel like this is because volleyball is seen as a feminine activity and the uniform is somewhat provocative. Ladies typically wear short spandex and tight tanks for uniforms; the perfect combo to catch the eye of a new dude (but who am I to say). Due to the drop out of athletes, at the high school level, grade 9 players were brought up to play at the varsity level. This was intimidating for sure, but by this level of play the majority of people that would have dropped out already had. By high school, female athletes were established and committed.

    Again, I’d just like to say great job and I liked how well I could relate personally to your post!

  6. Josh McInnis says:

    I agree on the the lack of opportunity and lack of fun. There has been a recent push from the last generation, our parents, to get their children involved into as many sports as possible. For whatever reasons, parents seem to think that the more sports their children play the more successful they will be but they don’t seem to consider negative outcomes of overloading their children with so many activities. Another important question that parents seem to not be aware of is are their children enjoying this sport after sport lifestyle?

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