surveyOur soccer league has seen amazing growth over the past seven years, but we still have a sizable number of kids who drop out. I don’t know what the ‘norm” is at other leagues, but we have seen a steady 10% drop rate almost every year. We don’t require up front payment with registration, so that may have an impact. Registration is free – you pay at your first practice. So any child that is registered and doesn’t finish the season is considered a drop, even if their parent signs them up and they decide not to play a week later.

You hear a lot about the dreaded ‘73%’. A common statistic quoted by DOCs is that 73% of kids quit soccer by the time they reach age 13, which is then followed up by “usually because they aren’t having fun any more” but no data is provided to back that up. Some research has shown that the 73% statistic itself is misguided, but that’s another post.

I’ve always wanted to know exactly why kids were dropping from our league. As someone directly involved in the registration of our players (and thus the paperwork when they drop out), I got the feeling that for many kids, they just weren’t interested any more. Many drops seemed to happen before practices began – kids just seemed to change their mind. Sure we had kids who were unhappy – not every player and their parents will be happy with their coach or team, and try as we might – not all of our coaches are A+ either. So drops are expected.

Anyway – I decided to give the Google Doc Surveys a try and get some feedback from our parents as to why they dropped out this past season to see if there was anything we could do to improve our retention and better understand what might be driving some kids away. Here’s what we found…

We had 68 players register and drop out before the end of the season out of 731 registrations. Of those 68, we got responses from 22, for a 32% response rate. Not bad considering we only sent out one notice, but also a statistically minuscule sample – the value is really in the text comments. I probably should have sent out a reminder a week later to improve the response rate. All of the responses we received came in within 48 hours of emailing the survey out to everyone, so a reminder probably would have been good 3-5 days after the first announcement.

We had drops at every level, but it was interesting to see the spike in responses from the U9-U10 division, though that is also our biggest division – a graph of percentage dropped would be more informative. May be chance, but may also be an indication of a problem.

The bulk of our responses came from the U9/U10 age group

Many responses came from the U9/U10 age group

The timing of the drops showed that many of the responses came from players who never practiced. We try to place kids on teams they request, but only if it doesn’t affect team parity. So a common reason for players dropping is not getting on a specific team with a specific coach or friend. It’s unfortunate, but we can only put so many kids on a given team.

Most players dropped before practice started

Most players dropped before practice started

Nobody who responded dropped after matches began, and most dropped before practices began.

Now I should note that these two graphs really don’t tell us anything quantitative. We have records that can tell use which divisions drops came from and when they happened for all 68 players. We asked these questions mainly to give some context to the responses we received. Once we got these types of questions out of the way, the more informative questions could be asked.

We tried to come up with common reasons for dropping, but still managed to have 32% of the respondents pick ‘Other’ for why they left. Still, it was reassuring to see that many of the drops were simply due to kids not being interested or having too many activities. I was surprised (but happy) to see only one parent select ‘Issues with coach’. Even more telling was nobody selecting ‘Wasn’t having fun’. Imagine that…

Many players dropped because they weren't interested or had too many activites.

Many players dropped because they weren't interested or had too many activities. A few things got cutoff and would read 'Interactions with teammates', 'Moved to another league', and 'Was never contact by a coach'

In an effort to figure out if the reasons for dropping were specific to a coach, division, or league, we asked them ‘What was the scope of the primary reason your child dropped out’. I really struggled with how to word this and still wasn’t happy with it, but wasn’t sure how to make it clearer. The answers were ‘The league as a whole’, ‘Their divisions’, and ‘Their specific team’. 68% chose Other, so clearly this wasn’t a good question and/or set of answers.

We asked if the parents had raised any concerns with the league before dropping, and only 9% said yes. Considering how many ‘parent concern’ emails our league deals with in a given season, I thought more would have contacted us beforehand, but I guess it makes sense given the high number of drops due to kids not being interested anymore or having too many activities. They would have no reason to raise concerns.

That was all we really asked from a quantitative point of view. We ended the survey asking parents if they wanted to share specifics about why they dropped out. Here are some anecdotal responses:

Can you share some specifics about why your child dropped out?

  • My son was bounced around from team to team too much. His first season was on [Team X] but was bumped from that team to another team with no explanation. The experience he had with the other team was fine but not very instructional, so he lost interest. I asked for him to be put back on [Team X] and was told it was a possibility but when we received his assignment he was with yet another coach and team. We decided it was not worth it for him to adjust another time so we decided not to even start with the practices. This is a common problem. Parents know who the long time Rec coaches are and they often have dozens of kids asking to be on their team, so we invariably have to turn some away. We generally return kids to their old team year after year if we can, but not always. Sometimes kids register late, so they get bumped from their old team. Other times we simply don’t have enough spots for everyone on a specific team. When we announce rosters, we include a note as to why we can’t meet all requests, but parents still get upset when they don’t get the team they wanted. But most continue to have their child play anyway.
  • My child decided he didn’t want to play this season but may be back for spring season. As a parent I was very unhappy with the head coach for [Team Y] who did not allow enough playing time for children that were not that good at the sport. Playing time is a very common reason for parents to be upset, even though we mandate 50% playing time (which most coaches adhere to, but not all). The interesting thing is how many people equate 50% playing time with equal time. They aren’t the same thing.
  • There was not a choice as to joining a team with practice days/times that would fit into our pre-existing schedule, and we were not contacted in enough time to be able to adjust our schedule to accommodate this season with MYSA. This is a VERY common problem, though we try to work through it. We used to ask parents when they registered what nights their child couldn’t practice. However, we never could use the information because most teams didn’t set a practice schedule until AFTER they queried their parents. It was a chicken-egg situation. We couldn’t assign players to teams based on practice schedules because teams didn’t have practice schedules until after players were assigned. So we stopped asking. We try to tell parents if they can’t make a team’s practices to let us know and we’ll try to reassign them to a team with a better schedule, but a few just drop out instead.
  • I registered my daughter for the first time playing soccer one day after the deadline on the Internet.(didn’t realize your registration was so early) Your deadlines are very early compared to other leagues. A previous experience with my son had me concerned that she would not get on a team due to our late registration. After numerous unsuccessful attempts to contact the league via phone and email I decided to sign her up with a city Rec league as their deadline was approaching. I finally got a reply from your league, that she would be assigned to a team after she had already started practice with the other league. I would have preferred she played with your league. This is one area we need to work on a bit, though I’m not sure how to better address it. Our registration period is in line with most other USYSA affiliated leagues, but is definitely much earlier than local city Rec leagues. This tends to catch people by surprise, so we try to advertise in papers and put up signs around town noting registration is underway, though we probably could do a few other things to get the word out earlier. Once parents register online, we send a confirmation to them with a link to some welcome information online. The one thing we definitely need to add is ‘What to expect’ so parents better understand what will happen once they register – which is basically nothing. Parents register months ahead of time, but there is no reason to contact them until rosters are finished, so they wonder if they got forgotten or if their registration got lost. Letting them know they may not hear anything until Week X may help with this. You register, you wait, teams get assigned, and you get contacted by your coach a few weeks before practices begin.
  • We did not drop out due to any specific problem with the league but I would like to mention that we were concerned that things seemed a bit disorganized. One of the coaches quit the day before practice started and when we showed up to practice the first day, the new coach (really great guy) had two teams. Practice was scheduled for 4 times per week and we did not stick around to find out if that would change. In consideration of our other commitments, we felt that this situation would be a bit unstable from a scheduling standpoint. This was really surprising. We have had coaches drop out right before the season started and we’ve had teams without coaches as we scramble to recruit them before the season starts. This always makes parents nervous. But we’ve never heard of, nor encouraged, a coach to practice four times a week. This shocked me when I read it and wonder if they had misread something. Teams often practice 2-3 times a week before matches begin and then drop to 1-2 practices once weekend matches start. Wish they had asked us about this because nobody (that we know of) practices four times a week. Strange.

Overall, I was very happy with the responses since they didn’t really indicate a widespread or systemic problem in the league and the specific feedback was either something we really couldn’t address or pointed to things we can easily do better. Now that we have some baseline data, it will make next year’s survey even more useful.

What do you think? Should we have asked other questions? Was it worth doing?