6 mistakes parents make when kids want to quit a sport

RACHEL DOHERTY

Social worker, teacher and the founder of Tweens2teen

Children and teenagers who play a sport will at some point decide to quit. Parents can avoid these common mistakes to make it a positive experience, not painful.

If you have a child who’s good at sport, there will come a time where they decide to end it. But what if you think that time is too early?

Alex is a promising swimmer, but training six days a week has caught up with him. Now that he’s 16, he wants to be able to go out with his friends on the weekend, or try another sport. He’s also thinking he’d like to do better at school and less time in the pool could help with that.

His swimming results haven’t been too good in the last six months, but everyone knows he’s capable. His coach keeps pushing him to work harder, and his parents are still talking about the Olympics. But the fire’s gone out for Alex. He’s over it.

“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.”

JAMES JOYCE

There are lots of parents who have a child like Alex. A promising athlete who wants to quit. Read on to learn about the six mistake to avoid when your child is making their way out of a sport they once loved.

Stop seeing sport as an investment

When kids show sporting promise, it can cost a lot to keep them in it. There’s coaches fees, equipment, uniforms, travel, medical bills and a whole lot more. Most sporting parents spend thousands of dollars each year on supporting their child’s talent and dreams.

And that’s what it starts to feel like. An investment.

 

Once you stop seeing that money as a gift, you’re in danger of having more tied up in your child’s sport than a desire for them to have fun. And that’s where it can be a problem if they decide to quit.

The common mistakes parents make when kids want to quit

Most children take a while to make the decision to walk away from their sport. They’ve been losing interest over time, or developing a new passion on the side. They also tend to show signs of quitting long before they speak about it. Read my article on the signs a child wants to quit if you’re not sure what to look for.

But if you know your child wants to quit, there are six mistakes to avoid so your child can exit without the baggage of letting you down.

Mistake 1: Feeling you haven’t capitalised on your investment yet

You’ve spent all that money and the prize of a better representative team, a college scholarship or selection to an elite academy could be their within grasp. It’s hard not to feel like they’re throwing all that hard earned-cash away!

If you’re feeling like that, you’re definitely thinking about the money more than your child.

As parents, we choose to spend money on our kids activities. Nobody forces you to enrol your child in that basketball program or sign up for football. Sure, your kids might have been keen when they were young to join their friend’s on a team. But it was still your choice as the adult.

The biggest mistake parents make with kids’ sport if forgetting that it’s about the children. It’s about kids learning to get along with others, mastering their body and figuring out life as well. As the years pass that might have changed into some bigger goals and dreams, but it’s still about the kids.

Imagine if you bought an investment house that looked great on the outside and in the early days was earning you a decent rent. A few years in you find that the house is full of termites and needs major repairs. You start ploughing the cash in, but the problems just keep cropping up.

At some point, most investors would decide to call it a day and offload the house. They’d stop spending money on it. They have to be content to walk away with some lessons learned, rather than the capital gain they were hoping for.

If your child reaches a point in their sporting career, where it’s no longer fun and they’ve lost interest in their goals, you need to help them walk away too. To focus on what they’re taking with them and not loading them down with guilt.

“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.” – Winston Churchill

Mistake 2: Owning the decision more than your child does

Once children reach the teenage years, they should make more decisions about what they like and do.

Plenty of kids might be good at something but not actually enjoy it. Or they might like doing it, but not in a formal or intensive way.

If a young person has lost the desire to chase after a dream, you can’t take it over for them. There will be too many hurdles to get over for them to reach any success. We need to remember that this is their life, their talent and their time. Not ours. We might like watching them, and feel proud to be their parent, but it’s all theirs.

Give them space to make their own decisions and keep telling them that you know they’re capable of doing that. Help them to know that you’ve got their back.

Mistake 3: Seeing your child as a quitter

Success in sport takes a lot of commitment and hard work. These kids know what it means to sacrifice and have drive. The decision to walk away from a sport they’ve spent years working in doesn’t mean they’re a quitter. Those qualities are going to go with them in life.

In the world of gymnastics, when the girls decide to finish up, they call it retirement. All the parents at our club joke about wishing we could retire at 15 or 17.

Retiring is so much more positive than quitting. It talks of the promise of a new season, where all those old skills find use in a new endeavour.

If you’re child is thinking about leaving their sport, start talking up all the great memories, the skills and the attitude that they’re taking with them. Not to mention the friendships. Those things are worth so much more than what they might achieve in the sport if they stay.

Mistake 4: Thinking you know what they’re going through better than they do

If you watch your kids do their sport you can often fool yourself into thinking that what they do is simple. In gymnastics, my daughter makes some of the things she does look easy. But all those twisty, flippy things aren’t as simple as they seem.

Every now and then a fear will creep up and one of the gymnasts will have trouble doing a skill. I’ve heard a few parents on the sideline ask why she’s having trouble, and it almost takes my breath away.

Honestly, would you not have an issue with doing backflips on a plank of wood three inches wide? Do you think there’s not some logic in having a second thought about running at speed towards a stationary object and then doing a cartwheel onto it?

Only our kids really know what it’s like to do what they do. And to do it in their body. Even if you did the sport as a kid, you’re not them. You don’t live their life right now or have the thoughts and feelings they have.

We need to let our young athletes be the experts of their own lives and respect their authority on that topic.

Mistake 5: Worrying about what other parents will think

There’s a certain amount of peer pressure in sporting circles, among the parents as well as the kids. This might come back to the investment thing, where parents are wanting to feel that what they’re spending is worthwhile.

It doesn’t matter what other parents think, does it? This is about your child and what they choose to do.

And that’s where parents need to make sure they advocate for their son or daughter. The decision to quit will face a lot of pressure, particularly if they still show promise. Their coach will want them to continue. The team might feel like your child is letting them down. Officials may want them to stay on because of their potential.

This is the time to be that mama or papa bear and stand up for your child.

Mistake 6: Looking too far ahead

When a child says they want to quit a sport, many parents will let their thoughts run forward and see them sitting on the couch, eating chips.

Most kids who leave one sport will still be active. They might even move into a new sport and be more successful. Or they might go back to their old sport as a coach or referee.

In our gymnastics club, most of the girls who retire stay involved in this way. It’s lovely to see them working with the younger girls, taking their hard earned knowledge and passing it on. Others go on to other sports or enjoy playing sport socially.

We can’t know what our kids will choose to do in a few months or a few years. But looking too far ahead will stop them thinking of the possibilities right before them. Sport is a great activity for kids to learn about themselves, keep fit and develop some great life skills. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that it’s always their thing, not ours.

Letting kids choose to quit isn’t a sign that you’re a bad parent or your child has failed. It’s just that they’re ready for something new.

If you’re still not sure if your child is wanting to quit, read my article on the 10 signs to look for.

What do you think? Is there another mistake that parents make when it’s time to walk away? Perhaps you’re struggling with your child’s choices right now. I’d love you to share your thoughts below.

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