Children and teenagers who play a sport will at some point decide to quit. There are some common mistake that parents should avoid if they want to make this a positive experience for their kids.

If you have a youngster 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 was 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 results haven’t been as good in the last six months, but everyone knows he’s capable. His coach just 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.

How parents can help their children and teens leave a sport well.

The investment of sport

When kids show promise in a sport, it can cost a lot to keep them in it. There’s coaches fees, equipment, uniforms, travel, medical bills and a whole lot more. The expense just goes up and up. Most parents are spending what other people put into paying off their home loan or buying an investment.

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

Once you tip over from seeing what you’re spending as a gift, you’re in danger of having more tied up in your child’s sport than just 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

So if your child has mentioned the thought of quitting, or their friends are all looking for the door, it’s worth keeping the mistakes of others in mind so your child gets to exit without the baggage of letting their parents 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 just within grasp. It’s so hard not to feel like you’re child is throwing all your hard earned-cash away! If you’re feeling like that, you’re definitely thinking about the money side of it too much.

As parents, we choose to spend money on our kids extra-curricular 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 little to join their friend’s 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, learn to use their body and learn a bit about life too. As the years pass that might have changed into some bigger goals and dreams, but it’s still about the kids.

Imagine you bought an investment house that looked great from 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 that house rather than keep spending money on it. You’re going to have to be content to walk away with some lessons learned, rather than the capital gain you were hoping for.

If your child reaches a point in their sporting career, where it’s no longer fun and they don’t want to keep working towards their goals, then you need to help them be happy with what they’re taking away with them and not load them down with guilt.

Mistake 2: Owning the decision more than your child does

Once our children reach the teenager years, they should be able to make more decisions about what they like and what they want to do. Plenty of kids might be good at something but not actually enjoy doing 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 carry them on towards it. 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. Sure we might like watching them, and feel proud to be their parent, but it’s all theirs. So, give them space to make their own decisions and keep telling them that you know they’re capable of doing whatever they want. 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 are driven. The decision to walk away from a sport they’ve spent years working in doesn’t mean their 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. But I love that word. Retiring is so much more positive than quitting. It talks of the promise of a new season, where all those old skills will be used in a new endeavour.

If you’re child is starting to think about leaving their sport, start talking up all the great memories, the skills and the attitude that they’re going to have for life. 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 better than them what they’re going through

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

Every now and then a fear will creep in 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 nearly takes my breath away. Honestly, would you not have an issue with doing multiple 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 and backflip onto it?

Only our kids really know what it’s like to do what they do, as them. 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 your 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, mostly among the parents. Again, I think this comes back to the investment thing, where parents are wanting to feel like 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 a lot of promise. Their coach will want them to continue, the team might feel like your child is letting them down, officials might also want them to stay on.

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, playing video games and eating a bag of chips.

Most kids who leave one sport will still be active. They might even move into a new sport and be even 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 develop learn about themselves, keep fit and learn 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 your a bad parent or your child has failed, just that they’re ready for something new.

What do you think? Is there another mistake that parents make when it’s time to walk away? I’d love you to share your thoughts below.

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