What Should You Do When Your Kid Wants to Quit Sports?

Tips for dealing with young athletes who want to drop out.

Posted Dec 10, 2018

Ford Video/Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports
Source: Ford Video/Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports

At one time or another and for a variety of reasons, most athletes think about quitting. Sometimes a decision to quit comes as a shock to parents, but at other times the warning signs leading up to it are very clear.

What are the causes of dropping out of youth sports?

In general, the reasons fall into two categories. The first category involves a shift in interests, especially during adolescence. Other involvements, such as a job, a boyfriend or girlfriend, or recreational pursuits may leave little time for sports. In such cases, a youngster may simply choose to set other priorities.

The second category of reasons why kids quit involves negative sport experiences. Research has shown that the following reasons often underlie a decision to drop out:

  • Not getting enough playing time.
  • Poor relationships with coaches or teammates.
  • An overemphasis on winning that creates stress and reduces fun.
  • Over-organization, excessive repetition, and regimentation leading to boredom.
  • Excessive fear of failure, including frustration or failure to achieve personal or team goals.

What are some tips for resolving the problem?

1. Be proactive. The ideal approach is to prevent the dilemma from occurring. In a New York Times blog, Lisa Belkin recommended developing an anti-quitting plan as an integral part of signing up for a sport. In essence, she advocates forming a contract that includes the following conditions:

  • If you commit to a team, you have to complete the season.
  • If you want to quit because you’re being hurt, physically or emotionally, then that cancels out the above.

2. It’s very important to find out the reason(s) your child wants to quit. This requires open discussion to probe some ways to resolve the difficulties being experienced. In doing this, Catherine Holecko provided sound advice in her Family Fitness blog. Specifically, she recommends choosing a time and place that’s comfortable to your child, and asking (with sensitivity) some of the following questions:

  • You seemed really interested when signing-up. What’s changed?
  • Do you remember the two conditions of the contract we made?
  • Is there something going on that you’d like to talk about?
  • Are you disappointed about your performance, or your team’s?
  • Is there something else you prefer to do instead?
  • Would you like to play the same sport, but on a different team?
  • How do you think your coach/teammates would feel if you quit the team?

3. If the youngster has decided that other activities are more important, his or her priorities should be respected. However, it’s wise to provide a reminder that a commitment has been made to the program and to teammates. In other words, athletes owe it to themselves and to others to honor commitments and to finish the season. This gives the youngster an opportunity to feel good about himself or herself by fulfilling the obligation through the remainder of the season—even if the activity itself is no longer pleasurable.

4. If appropriate, you may wish to take some active steps to correct the difficulties identified. This will likely involve speaking to the coach or a program administrator. In talking with your youngster, you should evaluate how intolerable the situation is to him or her and whether the problems can be worked out. In all but the most severe cases, you can point out that a commitment has been made, and you can encourage your youngster to finish the season.

5. If the problems are sufficiently severe, the decision to drop out may be in the best interests of your child. In this case, you would want to communicate to your child that although it’s important to live up to commitments, you understand that the principle is outweighed by the nature of the problems. If the child does drop out, there may be other opportunities to play in a sport program that doesn't have the negative factors that prompted the decision to quit.

Do you want to learn more about parenting young athletes?

The Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports is a research-based video that emphasizes skill development, achieving personal and team success, giving maximum effort, and having fun. To access the video, go to the Youth Enrichment in Sports website.