Why do adults quit sports?

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Posted by Will Hinch - 26 October, 2016

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The benefits of sport are undeniable. Reams of studies have outlined the social, mental and physical benefits of participating in sport; yet many of us decide against participation when we hit adulthood.

Here we take a look at the main influences behind adults dropping out of sport, using a study conducing by Harvard University in 2015. Use the comments at the bottom of this page to add to the debate.

What the research says

Discussion into why children drop out of sport is widespread, helping parents to guard against potential pitfalls and keep their children active in sport for longer. Thanks to Harvard's recent study, the attention has now switched to why, and when, adults decide to give it all up.

The study interviewed over 2,500 US adults each aged over 18. Whilst it reports that one in four adults still played sport at the time, three in four said they had played sport when they were younger (although the study did find a higher percentage were still actively engaged physical exercise in some form).

A number of reasons are suggested by the report in an attempt to explain what is a significant drop-off.

Age

One of the most drastic findings from the report was the age at which adults drop off from sporting activity. At between 40% and 41%, a steady number of adults were said to be still taking part at ages 18-25. Once adults hit 26 however, that number dropped dramatically to just 26%, and only heads further south the older you get.

Those involved in the study who hadn't taken part in any form of sport for the past 12 months were then asked why. Three significant themes arose:

Health (50%)

Half of those interviewed claimed that health-reasons were behind their lack of action.

Why adults quit sports Harvard study statistics
Obviously, as your body gets older, recovery takes longer. Aches are amplified, and injuries sustained take much longer to heal.

Poor health could also mean issues outside of sport. With age of course comes greater risk of health problems, and these could be contributing to adults dropping out of sport.

Time (35%)

As I'm sure all adults can relate to, lacking the required time to participate in sport was also a significant factor. Over a third of interviewees said they no longer had the time to take part. A view that's easy to sympathise with.

During your teenage and young-adult years, sport comes part and parcel of education and social life. Living with parents who are eager to encourage sport wherever they can, sport is part of the majority of children's lives (over 70% according to this study).

For adults, professional and family-based pressures appear. Suddenly, the time to take part in sport diminishes. Spending quality time with a newly formed family quickly eats up the weekends. Long, hard working hours leaves few opportunities during the week.

These points are further qualified when you look back at the age of adults when they drop out of sport. With significantly more adults dropping off at around the 26-year mark, it lends favourably with the suggestion that career progression and having a family (things we tend to do more towards the back end of our 20s) is mutually exclusive with playing sport.

Interest (22%)

Again, a distinction between how you participate in sport as a child and an adult can be made in relation to the interest you have in playing sport. For kids, sport is fun. Played with your friends at school or elsewhere, sessions are built around being fun – with competitive elements often reduced. At each point, you have either a parent or teacher encouraging you to continue.

When you hit adulthood, that authoritative motivator is yourself. Without the endless reserves of energy to draw on, and issues around health increasingly relevant, the element of 'fun' is often diminished; leading to adults making another decision when faced with whether they want to carry on.

Compounding a lack of motivation and interest in sport is the busy lives adults often lead. With more distractions, it's easy to see a decline in interest. Plus, those professional and family pressures could lead to a decline in the social aspects of sport – something which makes it so appealing to teenagers and students.

Other reasons

Good health, time and interest (or a lack of these three things) were the reasons given by the subjects themselves, but the report also highlighted three other key factors. Age, discussed above, being the first.

Opportunity

Alarmingly, income level was highlighted as a significant factor to the likelihood of an adult playing sport on a regular basis.

37% of adults from higher-income households (defined in this study as earning over $75,000 per year) were found to play regular sport, contrasting with just 15% in lower-income adults (household earnings of less than $25,000 a year).

Adults watch kids game of football
The reasoning is open to speculation. It could be that the issues adults raised themselves (i.e. interest, health and time) are amplified for people in lower-income careers. The role government plays in making sport available to people in lower-class areas is also questionable based on these facts.

Educational level also seems to be a significant factor, which could tie in with financial income. Adults educated to high school level or below (15%) were found to be much less active in sports than those who were college graduates (35%).

Gender

One final point of differentiation surrounds gender. Men were reported to more than twice (35%) as likely to say they played sport than women (16%).

Again, this study doesn't go into the whys of it's findings, but you could point back at those three interview-given reasons. However fast our egalitarian society is developing, men are still more likely to harbour an interest in sport into adulthood. Plus, the logistics of family life (i.e. pregnancy) means adult women have longer blocks of time where sport just isn't an option.

Why do adults quit sports?

The research detailed above highlights a number of intriguing stats into why adults quit sport, opening a number of avenues that encompass everything from our genetics to government policy.

Take a look at our piece on why kids quit sport, and use the comments below to have your say.

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Topics: Grassroots, Opinion


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