What to Do When Kids Want to Quit the Team

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Research consistently supports the benefits of sports participation, and most parents eagerly await the time when they can cheer on their young one as he or she runs down a field, or up and down a court. Sometimes parents are more excited about the game than their child. When this happens, parents may find it difficult to handle an expressed desire from their child to quit a sport midseason or before. Sometimes a parent isn’t ready to stop participating even when a child is. There are a few things that parents can do to make this process a bit easier.

1. Find out exactly why he or she wants to quit. Many young people quit playing sports because they stop having fun. This can happen for any number of reasons, including not getting enough playing time, perceived lack of success, dislike of coaching styles or not enough social opportunity within the team. By finding out the exact source of a child’s disappointment and why he wants to quit, you may be able to discuss and engage in collaborative problem solving, which may not necessarily mean the end of the child’s athletic career.

2. Watch the pressure you place on the child. Studies have indicated that a child’s perception of a parent’s expectation of them in sports significantly affects their enjoyment, as well as the length of time they remain in sports. A young child has a way of referring to parents’ reactions to assess success or failure, pride, or disappointment. Work to ensure that your stance and expression is one of pure support and encouragement.

3. Offer, or allow him to suggest alternatives. Children are specializing in sports much younger today than they did in the past. As a result, they are experiencing injuries and burnout at a much younger age. Offer a variety of sports that opens a child to new experiences and offers opportunities to discover abilities, while also supporting more balanced muscle development.

If after engaging in dialogue, keeping your expectations in check and offering other athletic alternatives your child continues to dread practice, it may be best to allow them to take a break. It is important, however, that they continue to engage in some form of physical activity. In a few years, they just may decide to pick up a ball again. 

Nyaka NiiLampti is an assistant professor of psychology at Queens University and co-director of Mind Over Body at Southeast Psych.