How to tell it’s time for kids to quit sport: 10 helpful signs
When a child or teenager says they want to quit their sport, it won’t be the first sign to parents that they’re ready to go.
Most young athletes will choose at some point in their teenage years to leave their sport, or reduce it, rather than press on for greater glory. When they’ve had a promising start and show talent, that can be a hard decision to make.
I’ve written about my experience parenting a young athlete before. But my athlete no longer wants to go all the way in their sport. There are other things that are looking more attractive.
While those of us who live with her have come to terms with her quitting the sport, there are coaches and team officials who find the decision harder. They see a lot of talent going to waste.
“When something is a passion, the motivation is there.”
That mindset is prefaced on the idea that playing high-level sport is the best that life can offer. Sure their talent has meant a lot to them, but what if something even better lies ahead?
My article on the mistakes parents make when a child wants to quit draws a question every week from parents who don’t know whether to let their young athlete walk or not. If you’re in that space, this article has 10 signs that your child could be calling it quits.
The signs that a child is getting ready to quit their sport
This is a list of signs, but it’s up to each family to decide how many are enough to leave a sport. For some kids, you might need a few. But where their remaining in the sport is causing extreme anxiety or depression, one might be enough.
Use these signs to start a conversation. To prepare yourself for the end. As I pointed out in my article on the six mistakes parents make when kids quit a sport, parents go through change too. You no longer have those games to go to, or the taxi runs back and forth to training. Many of the parents you’ve made friends with over the years will drift away. It doesn’t need to be bad, but it will be different.
Sign 1: They skip training
When kids love their sport, they go all the time. They lap up the extra training they’re offered and love making development squads. But when their passion wanes, they’ll find reasons to not go to training.
This isn’t just about new interests or hobbies. When kids love their sport, nothing will get in the way of their game. They will train tired and sick, they will ignore that assignment that’s due. They will skip a birthday party or miss out on the sleepover.
If your child is starting to let other things take priority over their training, it’s a sign that their time in the sport could be coming to an end.
Sign 2: They look miserable
Competitive sport takes commitment, particularly as a child moves up through the age groups and skill levels. It involves hard work, with many hours of training for each game or tournament. It’s not only a matter of turning up on Saturday for a run around the park.
All kids go through times of not loving their sport. They will resent the hard work or the demands it makes on their life. But they should also bounce back out of these low points. If your child is down and has been for a few weeks, you need to explore their feelings.
What is it about the sport that is making them miserable? What has changed from when they did love the sport?
Depression is a common issue for young people, which sport can help overcome. But when kids feel trapped in their sport, it can also be a cause. No child should be miserable for more than a few weeks without parents taking stock.
“Everyone has talent, it’s just a matter of moving around until you’ve discovered what it is.” – George Lucas
Sign 3: They no longer play with gusto
Talent without passion in a sport can start to make it feel like a job. It’s something you’re good at, but may not love. But unlike most jobs, sport doesn’t pay. Well not for most kids anyway.
Katherine Ramsland wrote on Psychology Today that some people have one passion that motivates them throughout life, and others drift from one thing to another. We need to be willing to accept that our child could love one thing as a child, but find enthusiasm for another as a teenager. And then move to something different as an adult.
If kids continue in a sport without passion, their results will rarely reflect their talent. Bernard Tomic’s tennis career is a perfect example of this. Who knows what he would have achieved if he had walked away from the sport when he first lost interest.
Sign 4: There are other things that interest them
The teenage years should be all about trying different things to work out who we are and what makes life satisfying for us. For kids who play a lot of one sport, they can often find they’re good at other sports or activities too. Something that was a hobby in the past might become a greater passion with time.
Friendships are also important in the teenage years, and as your child’s friends try things, they might want to as well. It would be wrong to hold our kids back from the new things through a fear of them leaving their sport. Many of today’s Winter Olympians switched over from more traditional sports before their current sports became serious. Who knows what new opportunities lie ahead for our kids too.
Sign 5: The injuries are mounting up
We only get one body in this life. While medical science allows us to repair that body and replace some parts, there will always be a legacy from sporting injuries. The toll of some sports can be tough. Too many concussions in football, or too many knee and ankle problems in netball or hockey can suggest their body isn’t up to the game.
If your teenager suffers a serious injury that has a long road back to competition, they may decide to walk away. Some coaches will push them to return before quitting, but we shouldn’t stand in the way of new goals if their reasons are sound.
Sign 6: They don’t get along with their coach
Most sports depend on kids having a good relationship with their coach. They need to take on the feedback and work on their game under the coach’s guidance. If the relationship between your child and their coach has broken down, it might be a sign to move on. That might be to another team, or it might be out of the sport all together.
Sign 7: They have stronger friendships outside of the team than within it
Teenagers like to keep up with their friends. They tend to be pack animals. If your child is making friends outside of their sport, you can expect them to be torn when other opportunities come their way.
If you’ve noticed your child’s friendships changing, then be alert for other signs that they’re losing interest in their sport. It might be that their friends have started leaving too, or they’ve moved on to another club without them. Or it might just be that the interests they have with other friends become more powerful than their love of sport.
Sign 8: They complain about missing out on things
All sporty kids have to miss out on other things. Whether it’s camps, sleepover, parties, dances or dates. But it’s when they start complaining about it that you should pay attention.
That suggests that they feel obligated to put their sport first, they don’t choose to. Resentment doesn’t make a talented athlete better. It can make them sloppy and prone to mistakes. It opens them up to injuries.
If your child is complaining about going to training or games, sit down and talk about their commitment to the sport and the team. Talk about when they could walk away and give them some time to decide about what they will do. But don’t accept the complaining as part of their sporting journey. No parent should spend money on a pastime their child keeps complaining about.
Sign 9: They’re identifying themselves away from their sport
When my young athlete first got on Instagram her sport was part of her description. Her feed had images of her competing and videos of new skills. But over the years that’s changed.
At school where she’s known as “the gymnast” she has embraced other activities that show she’s more than that. Perhaps your child is doing the same. These are all good signs of preparing for a life after their sport. They have a broader image of themselves than just what they play.
Sign 10: They say they don’t want to play anymore
The first sign most parents pick up on is the obvious one. Their child starts talking about quitting. That’s why it can be a surprise that many parents fight against. They push their child to hang on a little longer, or try a new club.
When kids have plucked up the courage to talk about quitting, it’s more of a sign they’ve decided. They’re just not sure how others will take the news. And that’s where the whole family can struggle.
My tip for parents is to not dismiss it. To listen to their reasons, and explore their ideas for what they will do next. Not playing that one sport doesn’t mean they will sit on the couch eating junk food. It’s the beginning of a new journey.
If you’re recognising some of these signs in your own child, then it’s time to start looking at their life after sport. Be open to that conversation and embrace who your child is becoming, even if you’re disappointed that they’re leaving a sport they have a talent for.
If you need some more tips, don’t forget to have a look at my article on the six mistakes parents make around kids quitting sport.
Do you have a child looking to leave their sport? What signs cause you the most worry?