Health

Must you let your little one stop a sport? Why making children ‘stick it out’ is not at all times the most suitable choice.


What should parents do when a kid wants to quit a sport? Experts weigh in. (Photo: Getty Creative)

Sport parents are a rare breed. We wake up at dawn to drive to games, host team dinners and wear our team colors with pride. The highs are oh-so-high and the lows are painfully low, but that’s what the sports life is all about … isn’t it?

The cheers, tears, wins, losses, victories and defeat — character is built in powerful team moments both on and off the field. But sometimes our kids don’t share our passion. They may even want to quit.

I’m the proud mom of three young athletes and, at one point or another, each of them has wanted to quit a sport they once loved — a sport I loved. And each time, I hadn’t a clue what to do as a sports mom. I desperately wanted them to follow through with their commitment, but seeing them miserable wasn’t exactly a walk in the park.

So what’s a parent to do when their chid wants to call it quits? With so many factors to consider, it’s easy for parents to get lost somewhere between I want my kid to be happy and I want my kid to honor their commitment. Truly, what’s a sports mom (or dad) to do?

Yahoo Life chatted with parents who’ve been there, as well as Julia Kim, a clinical psychologist, to find out how to handle those times when a kid is asking to quit a sport they’ve committed to play.

Practice the pause

Kids and teens are impulsive, so it’s normal for them to hastily jump from point A to point Z. Mary Buteau, 44, made the mistake of reacting impulsively when her daughter insisted on quitting basketball.

“She got in the car after a particularly grueling loss,” Buteau tells Yahoo Life. “The coach yelled at her, she was in tears and ready to quit forever. I was so adamant that she keep her commitment to the team that I scolded her.”

Buteau told her daughter quitting was not an option. “I said, ‘You are finishing out the season no matter what, so shake it off because what we start in this house, we finish,'” she recalls, admitting she failed to listen to her daughter’s feelings and felt that it immediately put a strain on their relationship.

“She didn’t want to talk to me about sports for the next few weeks and it was like pulling teeth just to get her to practice,” Buteau adds.

Kim says “being empathic and interested in what [your child’s] experience has been can help open the door to a meaningful discussion.”

“Insisting they not quit or being defensive will shut them down.” Kim says.

Instead, let your child vent. Take a deep breath, open your ears and (temporarily) shut your mouth. Validate their feelings with a simple Oh that stinks, it must have been so hard to sit on the bench the whole game. Or share their frustration: I was upset that you didn’t get in the game today, too. Save the problem-solving for another day when emotions have settled.

As a long-time sports parent, I struggled to detach from my daughter's desire to quit playing soccer. (Photo: Suzanne Hayes)As a long-time sports parent, I struggled to detach from my daughter's desire to quit playing soccer. (Photo: Suzanne Hayes)

As a long-time sports parent, I struggled to detach from my daughter’s desire to quit playing soccer. (Photo: Suzanne Hayes)

Detach from the outcome

For parents who love watching their kids play, the thought of them quitting can be a hard pill to swallow. Kim notes that “the emotional lines can become blurry,” and that’s normal.

“I think a parent’s pride is understandably involved,” she says. “But, do not allow your own wants and needs to determine the solution to your child’s dilemma.”

I learned this lesson the painful way when my teen wanted to quit soccer. I was consumed with doing everything within my power to get her to keep playing — partly because I imagined she would regret quitting and partly because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to cheering her on from the sidelines. I became a controlling mother, manipulating and bribing (Starbucks after practice? New cleats?) just to get my way. The bad news? It sure was a long season and there were more tears than cheers. The good news? Today, she is indeed happy she didn’t quit.

Detaching as a parent is never easy, but it’s not impossible. With a little self-awareness, accountability and willingness to let go, you will master the art of detachment in no time.

Give it time

One great way to give your child some autonomy in the decision-making is to give them time to sort out their emotions. When blogger Jennifer Darnell‘s daughter wanted to quit softball, she told her she had to take seven days … “to really think about her decision.”

When Jennifer Darnell's daughter wanted to quit softball, she tired to take a step back and allow her child to make her own decision. (Photo: Jennifer Darnell)When Jennifer Darnell's daughter wanted to quit softball, she tired to take a step back and allow her child to make her own decision. (Photo: Jennifer Darnell)

When Jennifer Darnell’s daughter wanted to quit softball, she tired to take a step back and allow her child to make her own decision. (Photo: Jennifer Darnell)

After those seven days, her daughter still wanted to quit. Darnell asked her to do one more thing: write out a pros and cons list. Her daughter completed the list and Darnell fully supported her desire to quit. “This whole sticking it out thing is toxic. For what? It’s a sport,” she says. “It will have no weight on their lives later, which is usually the argument. It just won’t. If they are unhappy, why force them?”

If you or your child make a decision too hastily, regret could take over. Take time and help your child learn the skill of making thoughtful and intentional decisions.

Remember any challenge life throws at your child is an opportunity to model good behavior and help them grow into a responsible, healthy adult. Kim points out that “kids learn how to resolve problems and conflicts by parents and other adults,” so it’s important to show them the way with patience, love and an open mind.

And remember, says Kim, that “it’s not quitting that is the problem, it’s [more about] why and how quitting is handled.”

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