Several times over the past few weeks, I have had conversations with parents, asking me how they should react and what they should say to their kids about wanting to quit their sport. If you have a son or daughter playing sports, sooner or later this issue will confront you. So exactly what should you do? What should you say? I think it depends on how old your child is and just what their reasons are for quitting. Essentially, there are three levels to discuss.
The first level relates to kids who are playing sports at the elementary school level. I have mentioned numerous times in this column that I feel as a society, we are starting our kids way too early in organized sports. The pressure to keep up with everyone else has led to many kids starting on an organized team before they are even enrolled in kindergarten. Too often, these kids are signed up by parents because they are afraid their kids will fall behind their peers. Many parents will get their child involved in a sport because they played it as a child and feel they will be able to help their child succeed. There is nothing wrong with this. However, many elementary school age kids will play to please their parents. They often don’t know any better and may eventually lose interest by fifth or sixth grade. I believe that if your child is in this age group and wants to quit, there are two things to do. First, I believe it is important that once your child has signed up for a team, they should finish out the season. The only reason I would be in favor of allowing your child to quit during the season, would be if they are in an abusive situation where their confidence and self esteem are being harmed by participating. Second, if they want to quit when the season is over, talk with them about it. Give them some time off from the sport before you make a final decision. Sometimes just taking some time away will regenerate their enthusiasm.
The second level involves kids at the middle school level. Usually these kids have had much more experience playing and often will begin to lose interest when either they don’t get to play as much as their peers, or because their teams are not winning. This is where you the parent, must become the psychologist. Ask your child why they want to stop participating. If they give you a good reason, don’t get upset at them. Remember this must be their decision, not yours. Yes, you will be upset, especially if you have been coaching them. But, this needs to be about them, not you. Don’t let your personal feelings and upset become a barrier between you and your child because you don’t want them to stop. However, make sure they have another activity to get involved in. This is the age when too many kids can end up getting lost in the shuffle.
The third level relates to your son or daughter at the high school or college level. They have played sports most of their life and you have coached them, driven car pools, traveled to tournaments and sat on uncomfortable bleachers cheering them on. But, they are now at the age where it has to be their decision. No matter how difficult it may be for you, let them decide on their own. If they ask for your feedback, be honest, but let them know that it needs to be up to them. Remember the fun you have had watching them and assisting them. Be proud of them for making a decision on their own and know that you have succeeded as a parent when they can make this decision.