Should I Let My Kid Quit Sports?

By Craig Sigl, Mental Toughness Trainer for Athletes

As an expert working with kids in sports, I get the question often from parents: “Should I let my kid quit sports?”  Here’s a typical email I receive from a parent:

Question:

“We want to help our daughter, now 12, with handling the pressure of playing with a premier club soccer. She is by far one of the better skilled players and excellent at practices but would shut down if she fumbled or felt she made a mistake on the field. We’ve struggled with this the last 2 seasons, though she has made some improvements.

As parents, her play and potential has fueled our support and encouragement.

Recently, she didn’t make the 1st team for next year. We felt that might be better because it would mean less stress for her. However, she now complains about going to practice, playing with off-season leagues, etc.. She just doesn’t seem to enjoy it anymore.

quitting-soccer

We are torn about whether we should “take a break” and risk her not ever doing it again or we should “make ” her work through her challenges with the hopes that this is a life lesson in learning to handle stressful situations in life; not just soccer.  It’s one of those things where I don’t think she realizes how good she is and if she knew,  it would allow her to not “shut down.”  I feel her talent in soccer will go to waste if she stops. :(

I appreciate any feedback you can give.

P.S. We also started doing horse riding lessons as another way to build confidence and as a change of pace to the soccer. Now, all she wants to do is that.

 

Here is my answer:

I have heard this type of story many times.  Based on what you’ve written, I would advise letting her do horse riding and risking not playing soccer again.

The reason is, no matter how much talent an athlete has, if she doesn’t have the motivation for playing, it’s all for nothing. We can’t create motivation in someone else, we can only help them find what is already there (if it’s there).   This is so important for parents to recognize that our kids are not small versions of us who just lack our wisdom. They are as unique as a stranger on the street with their own desires, passions and what drives them.

Yes, her wanting to quit may be due to her perceived failure from not making the team, but that doesn’t mean a parent should force a 12 year old to face it head on.  Kids are generally sensitive and may need time to forget about it and rebuild confidence.

A year (or more) off will help clear her mind and allow her to create passion for sports again.

At this age, she will actually learn much more from doing a different sport/activity that she enjoys than “working through” one she doesn’t. We don’t want our kids associating sports with drudgery, resentment and other difficult feelings. Sports is supposed to be an opportunity to learn how to give something your all, how to focus on a goal and achieve it, and how to create self confidence.

encouraging-a-kid-who-wants-to-quit-sports

At 12, especially, there is no reason to specialize in one sport anyway.  She can easily pick up soccer again in a year or even longer and her talent won’t have gone anywhere.   Let some time go by without mentioning soccer.  She will run into friends who still play soccer and those memories of her good play will always be with her.

You don’t want to be one of those parents who forces their child to play a sport they aren’t excited about.  You will likely create problems between you and your child and, trust me, it’s not worth it to hurt your relationship with your child over this regardless of how much talent she has in that sport.

Your connection to her is much more important than her “maybe having success in soccer.”

Take stock of what you really want your child to learn and experience through. Is it success at all costs? Learning and living these ideas through sports is what will do the most for her long term success, not only in sports…but in her whole life.

 

Craig Sigl’s work with youth athletes has been featured on NBC TV and ESPN. Get his free ebook: “The 10 Commandments For a Great Sports Parent” and also a free training and .mp3 guided visualization to help young athletes perform under pressure by visiting MentalToughnessTrainer.com.

 

Responses...

Ann DeWitt  

I was so curious when I read the title of the blog post. I am glad you came down on the side of honoring our children. I see coaches and other parents who blame kids for not being motivated, committed, focused enough when sometimes those kids were made to sign up for reasons not their own. I want kids to choose to play, stick out the season they committed to, but after the season is over be allowed to change to a less competitive league or to a different sport or activity if they choose.

Anonymous  

We have worked through this with our daughter as well, and decided to just limit our favorite sport (lacrosse) to just lacrosse season. She doesn’t want to do summer travel teams, and fall tournaments. It mean her skills are not as sharp as some other players, but she is OK with her level of play for now, and I try to remember, this is HER experience and not me reliving my life and avoiding all the mistakes I felt I made at her age. As mentioned in the article, when we take time off she come into the sport with a renewed enthusiasm, because she has taken a break. My daughter is 15, so we are a couple years ahead of 12.

Craig Sigl  

Yes, you’ve got it Ann! When I see hundreds of kids come through my office mentally beaten down (and some abused) by youth sports, it’s easy to become an advocate for them. At the same time, I want kids to toughen up to be able to handle the rigors of sports (and life when they become adults).

Good job anonymous. Parents would do well to follow your lead and recognize that it’s their experience, not the parents, as you mention. Bravo.

Craig Sigl

Roger S  

This is a question that many parents face at one time or another, (considering most kids stop playing sports at some point). I think it takes a lot of thought sometimes, and the answer can vary greatly from child to child.

A child that wants to quit after not making the 1st team would concern me. While I don’t think you force children to play sports, and you can’t tell from the question if this is the first setback, I think that argues for not letting the child quit. But, as argued, you don’t want to force the child into an experience that will be only negative.

I also think age is important. As children get older, it seems the ones that quit are less likely to come back. 12 is still pretty young, but I do know 13 is an age that many children quit sports, never to play again. Some sports the number leaving is very high, (in baseball 13 is linked with moving to a larger field, and what is, os seems to be a lot less success for many children), but moving to high school, and other demands, make it a key age in many sports.

I have one son that played only one season, and never really enjoyed it, for several reasons, and one some that is looking towards playing in college. One wanted to quit mid season, (we did have him finish the season, feeling it was a commitment), and the other has never asked to stop. The child that is talented, and has enjoyed it, is the tougher decision. I think sometimes we need to encourage persevering, but the parent needs to never put their needs or dreams ahead of the child.

Craig Sigl  

Great points Roger. I want to highlight a couple things you brilliantly wrote:
1. Each kid is different
2. Learning commitment by finishing out a season
3. There’s a balance to be struck with guiding our kids in sports (and life) Teaching adult concepts vs. protecting them.
4. It’s really ok for kids to quit sports at 13 or 14. They have formed most of their beliefs by then and the value of sports to them is negligible if they don’t want to play. Plenty of other activities to become engaged in.

Nice,

Craig

John  

But there’s this tension — a lot of sports are really no fun until you develop at least some basic skills, but you have to play them for awhile to get to the point where you have those skills. My oldest son hated/ barely tolerated baseball for the first few seasons, but now he’s 12 and pretty good (not great) and loves it. I am glad we told him he had to stick with it for awhile and didn’t let him quit.

Anonymous  

Thanks so much for this blog! Our daughter is 11, also playing soccer at the premier level, also more skilled than others but sometimes experiencing confidence issues, especially now that she’s under the scrutiny of outside evaluations & such. As tempting as it is for us to push for her “highest potential”, we can sometimes see the fun fizzling out amid too much pressure. If it’s not fun anymore, then what’s the point?

A few months ago when she was struggling, she said “maybe I should quit?” Holding my breath and trying to be as neutral as possible, I answered “that’s a real option… you can think about whether you want to work through this, play at a different level, or shift your time to something else. Let’s talk about what that would look like.” At that time, she took control and said “No, I’m doing this.”

However, I don’t think it’s over. I know she will continue to struggle for while and we will have to let her drive this at the pace she’s ready to take. Is it fair to say she will struggle with this for life, but will just have to learn how to work/accommodate/compensate for it? Or do players actually overcome/outgrow it? Any other tips for us parents who want to support our children and are fighting every temptation to become overly zealous? Thanks for your thoughts!

Anonymous  

All very good advice, my daughter plays club soccer and club volleyball year round and has been for several years. She is 14 now I keep thinking at some point she will get burnt out and will want to quit one of the sports, which would be perfectly fine with us, but only recently has she ever mentioned that she wanted to quit volleyball, but it had nothing to do her playing ability, it had to do with a new coach this year, who only put players down and showed favoritism to other players, so for that reason I could understand, because she had always had great encouraging coaches. We too told her to stick it out until the end of the season not only to show that she was not a quitter but because she can’t let her team mates down as well.
She did stick it out for the season, received a different coach the following season and went back to playing club volleyball and club soccer. We have to listen to our children and believe that they can make the right choices for themselves, especially if we have taught them that all their lives. Yes, their age has a lot to due with that as well.
My husbands best saying to our children has always been “If your not having fun, what’s the point.”

Jodi Murphy  

“We don’t want our kids associating sports with drudgery, resentment and other difficult feelings.”

That’s exactly how I feel! I think it’s important you finish out whatever commitment you made to the team (no quitting mid-season!) but if you turn sports into a chore you are taking the most important element, fun, out of the equation. Some kids might be stellar soccer players but they just don’t enjoy it. You can’t fake passion, even if you have talent.

Anonymous  

My son has done it all…baseball, floor hockey and now lacrosse. He started at the age of 7 and is now 11. This past season with hockey was not the best I have seen him basically “tune out” of the sport because he did not feel he had done correctly. He has played with the same kids and the same coach since he was 5 so they do know that he CAN do the sport. However, now that we are starting Lacrosse he is starting to do the same thing. He LOVES sports, he LOVES being around the team, but he will not put his whole heart in it and hustle or perform to the level he is capable of then he gets upset when Coaches or other kids point it out. Is he the top level kid…no…is he capable of being one of the better second strings YES! But as a parent I am struggling I hate seeing him out there 1/2 putting the effort in…and when he gets down about something he is becoming emotional and then gets even further down and then during his next shift he puts no effort into playing. I don’t know do I just say no more sports? do I make that decision and pull him from it? I want him involved as I do feel both sports teach him a HUGE amount of team work and other great values a kid needs. As well as most kids involved in sports tend to be less involved in bad situations.

I just don’t like seeing him so upset and as well as intentionally not preforming. If you ask him he will not change his mind on playing and even has wanted to sign up for a summer lacrosse league. However… I don’t want to keep seeing him not put the effort in… so do I say no?? or yes and allow him to continue putting 1/2 effort into it. I don’t want to pull the parent card and say no when it is something he loves..he always has a stick in his hands. But I am afraid he is doing more emotional harm to himself for being down on himself so hard then it is doing good anymore to be involved in sports.

Craig Sigl  

Dear Lacrosse parent,
In my opinion, you are on target with him not wanting him to get down on himself and so upset over his play. That’s self destructive.
On the other hand, I think you are off base to judge him on his half effort.
I would make a deal with him. You tell him that this “being so down on yourself” is not acceptable in our family. Explain the difference between temporary disappointment from making mistakes and not performing well (normal feelings) and carrying that with you past a healthy time.
Tell him you will allow him to play and support him ONLY if you and he are going to work together to clear this self destructive behavior.

I have loads of info to help you do just that at my website: mentaltoughnesstrainer.com which is all about helping kids (and parents) with just that.

p.s. I would bet the “half efforts” will cease when he stops getting down on himself.

Robin  

Just another thought from a mom of a 12 year old excellent athlete who is on the fence about both soccer and softball…and also 3 young adults 24-33 years old. Two of my older children regret *something* about a sport – one that he didn’t move from roller hockey to ice, and another that she didn’t continue playing softball. They both wish we had pushed it “a little harder”. We always respected their decision to play or not to play, though if they played, they were committed to the season.
I think it’s a fine line, and ultimately pushing too hard generally backfires anyway, so let them take up ice skating as an adult, or join an adult softball league. There’s enough angst in a teenager’s life without parental pushing for sports.

Anonymous  

what about playing an instrument? I have heard MANY adults who were forced by parents to continue with lessons, practice, etc & are SO GRATEFUL. never once have I heard “I hate that my mom made me stick with violin through high school” only regret from those that were allowed to quit.

is there something different about music lessons vs sports?

Craig Sigl  

Re: Anonymous. I promise you that there are adults out there who were not grateful that their parents forced them to play an instrument and practice for countless hours when they would have rather done something else.

If a parent asks, and then pushes a child to do an instrument, and then the child says no, no, no, the whole way, then who owns that when the child grows up?

There are huge lessons to be learned by allowing a child to learn things their own way. There’s no reason a regretful adult who turned down mom’s suggestion to play piano can’t go and take piano lessons as an adult. That’s the worst thing that can happen by not pushing too hard. The consequences for pushing too hard are much more severe.

Each parent has to make an intuitive decision about where the boundary line should be drawn between pushing too little and too hard for sure… but if the parent made the effort to expose the child to the opportunities, that’s being a good parent in my book.

Anonymous  

My daughter is similar to those described above. She’s 12 and is an excellent player floating between the A and B premier teams but to me she does not seems to have the passion that many of the other girls have. When asked if she enjoys it and wants to keep playing she always say yes, but I fear that she is giving me the answer she thinks I want to hear. I’ve thought about the other extreme – pulling her out of premier soccer for a year to see if she really does want to play at that level later. Of course, that will put her far behind the other kids if she still does want to play premier level next year. How can I help her choose the best path for her if neither of us seems to know what that is?

Jennifer  

It is very interesting to hear the response in regards horseback riding. It is mentioned as if it is a non-sport. I would like to inform you that riding is a sport. Actually, it can be a lifelong sport.

It is the only Olympic sport in which men and women compete against each other. Many of the oldest Olympians are equestrians. A friend of mine won the World’s Grand Championship driving her pony at the tender age of 85. It was her first time competing at the Worlds. Just google Faydelle Schott and Heartland Fortune Maker to see the joy on her face. I also know another woman in her eighties who would ride across the state of Michigan with a compass and a map forgoing the marked trails for more of a challenge.

Riding is a team sport. Because your teammate can’t speak, the rider has to understand nonverbal communication using visual clues and feel. When competing you are competing against others. Additionally you are striving to improve your riding to help your horse show to the best of their ability. There are high school and college equestrian teams. 4H has great programs. Another friend of mine was an USA team member for the World Cup competing in South Africa.

Riding is a great teacher of self confidence. A child that has guided a 1100 pound horse to walk to a wall and touch it with his nose will gleefully exclaim “I made him do that!”. Proper posture and form as well as balance takes practice to achieve. Therapeutic riding helps mentally and physically handicap individuals.

Cleats will never acknowledge you with a nuzzle or a whinny. It is very rare to see burnt out kids in horses. I think it may have to do with the connection between horse and rider. Riding is a real sport. One that can be enjoyed lifelong competitively or just for pleasure.

Ex-soccer player  

Hi. I’ve played soccer since I was 4, and if you added up all the money and time my parents put into soccer.. you’d be loaded. After a very small heart incident in 6th grade, I was out the rest of the travel season. My parents never put me back into travlel though because they felt I wasn’t passionate enough for them to be putting so much into it. I was mad and wanted to keep playing travel, but it never happened. I still played school soccer and I loved it. I used to be better than most of the other girls I’ve played with, but I started to notice people’s skills improving and I felt like I was seriously lacking. I made JV both freshman and sophomore year. Lately soccer has been feeling like a chore to me and something that I dread. I have a lot of anxiety before summer conditioning, feeling that I am not as good as other people. So today, without asking my parents, I emailed my coach (and attached my parents) and resigned. When they got home they were both incredibly angry and dissapointed. But I just don’t like soccer anymore. They told me I should have stayed comiitted and finished soccer for my last two years. I just want to focus more on academics since I want to be a surgeon. It’s me playing soccer, not them and although they put so much into it, it was time to put it to an end.

Just wanted to share a story from a teen’s perspective.

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