Link copied to clipboard

Kids and Sports: When Is It Okay to Quit?

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Health, Wellness, & Safety

Sports season is in mid-swing and your child may be ready to quit whatever sport he signed up for. You don’t want to be one of those pushy parents who forces a child to soldier on, but you don’t want to raise a quitter either.

When is it okay – is it ever okay – to insist a child keep going at something she’d rather stop? When is it okay to push?

The best answer is “it depends.” And it depends on five elements to consider as you and your child together try to work out what to do.

Whose idea was this? Was the sport your idea and your child was sort of dragooned into playing? Is this something you want more than your child ever did? Be honest. Try to separate out your version of events from your child’s version.

If this sport was your child’s idea, did you think at the very start that it was a good idea – or did you have your doubts? Is your impulse now to make your child continue one way of saying “I told you so” because you thought this was doomed and your child insisted?

Sorting out the way this began is a clue to how it should end. If there was any hint of pressure or antagonism at the start, then probably insisting he continue is not a good idea.

Is this the right sport? Maybe your child – or you – picked this sport because it seemed cool or because of a great professional team or because of anticipated college scholarship opportunities or just because it’s the sport every other kid in the neighborhood is into. But there are a lot of different sports and maybe you’ve picked the wrong one. Take a good long look at your child’s natural inclinations and physical attributes and make sure this sport is a good fit. Some kids do better in individual competitions than team sports. Some kids like sports that emphasize body control like gymnastics more than sports that emphasize physical contact like football. Talk with your child about what he’d rather do, if he decides to quit this one.

When did the fun disappear? Was it when her team started losing? Was it when other players started to outshine her? If your child expected instant success without working at it, then she’s experiencing a wake-up call and it’s not very nice. But it’s a valuable lesson and one that perhaps you shouldn’t cut short. Help her to rethink her expectations and concentrate on getting more skillful, not on winning.

Or did the fun disappear when practice and matches started to eat up all of her free time? If the time commitment has become a burden, then see if there’s a way to dial things back. There’s no need for any child to specialize too early so help her find ways to do other things too. If that means she has to quit playing, then that might be a reasonable option.

Or did the fun disappear when the coach or his teammates turned nasty? This is the moment to find something else to do – to walk away with no regrets. There’s no value in sticking it out in a demeaning and discouraging situation. If your child was genuinely enthusiastic at the start and now is really unhappy, see if you can figure out what went wrong.

What sort of commitments were made? Are there entanglements that make it difficult to stop like a car pool arrangement, promises to grandpa, or large sums of money invested? Most of the time, these commitments can be wiggled out of, especially if what you’ve already considered supports walking away. But if your child earned a scholarship to participate that another child could have used, then sticking it out deserves a second look. It depends on what your child’s motives are and how disturbing the situation is.

Is there a pattern here? Does this sort of thing happen just about every time your child tries something new? If your child likes to try things and drop them, then having to stick with something to the end might be a good way to encourage her to be more careful next time in what she chooses. But remember that you might have enabled this sort of behavior in the past. If you’re always eager to give your child whatever she asks for, even when you know she really doesn’t want it, then you’ve been part of the problem. If you decide to let her quit this time, don’t be too eager to replace this activity with another right away. Let her be really certain and talk together about contingency plans before starting something new.

Part of growing up is learning how things really are, apart from our fantasies of how they might be. Every child mistakes his sunny imaginings of victory for the hard work of practice and skill drills. In just about every endeavor there’s a point where even we adults feel like quitting. We’ve learned to push through and we’ve learned how sweet it is to finally succeed.

Knowing when to help a child push through and when to let him take what he’s learned and quit is not always easy. But the decision is made easier when you think through what’s going on. And when you and your child do this thinking through together.


© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.

share this
Follow Us

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.