Most parents today realize that youth sports can be a pretty intense experience for kids. Depending on the type of sport and level of competition (i.e. varsity sports, premier leagues, recreational, etc.), in some instances leagues can go year-round with a high level of practice and training in between games and various competitions (The Parents Playbook). Consequently, more kids than ever before are experiencing symptoms relating to sports burnout (i.e. lack of interest in playing sports, little to no pride over sport accomplishments, and unhealthy coping behaviors to deal with the stress of sports). Parents, as a result of the modern-day sports landscape, are challenged to create and maintain a healthy sport experience for their child – which in some cases may include the possibility of allowing their child to quit sports (The Parents Playbook).
While almost every parent I meet talks about how they would let their child quit if he wanted to, in many cases this isn’t truly a legitimate option. In other words, parents who begrudgingly say to their child that if sports are no longer fun the child can quit – but really don’t mean it and clearly hope the child decides against quitting – are not truly giving the child the option to quit playing sports. Kids aren’t dumb and they can easily pick up on how the option to quit really isn’t an option at all, as it is clear how much it will hurt mom and dad if quitting sports were to happen.
Of course, sports can be an invaluable life experience for kids, and for kids involved in sports the best role modeling advice is to always finish season commitments (short of unusual or unsafe conditions). The problem, however, is that some kids simply do not enjoy playing high intensity sports and are not intrinsically motivated to keep going. While it may appear as though they are still invested in playing, the reality is they are only involved in sports to please their parents and would be far better served involved in another non-sport activity, club, or organization.Unfortunately, some parents say the right things about the option to quit, but are clearly against the idea as is evidenced by their body language, tone of voice, and overall appearance of being upset about the prospect of giving up sports. Sadly, in these cases, most kids will continue to play sports solely to please their parents, resulting in short-term joy as the decision to quit is momentarily suspended. For the child who continues to play against his wishes, however, he is often left to struggle with the daily motivation needed to play sports, as well as the commitment and resiliency to handle the tougher aspects of sport training and competition.
Parents have a stake in youth sports, and in some cases have overly-identified with their child’s athletic accomplishments and success. In these cases, when the child is no longer interested in playing sports, he is often faced with the obvious reality that mom and dad really want to see him keep going – and would be terribly let down if he decided to quit. This pseudo-acceptance of the idea of quitting, coupled by all the time, energy, and money parents put into youth sports, often creates a very difficult problem for kids who truly want to quit sports:
How do they make this decision in light of the significance sports are to mom and dad??
Since the idea of quitting sports is a common issue for most sports families, the following tips are provided below to help you process the decision within your family:
* Always try to finish the current sports season, unless there is an injury or some other excruciating circumstance. If your child is struggling to earn playing time, try to support your child by positively reinforcing his effort toward the finish line.
* Examine if the current problem(s) your child is experiencing is short-term and transient in nature (i.e. a coach that won’t be around next year). If the problem is more long-lasting, however, it might be time to examine the option of quitting (i.e. your child has never really enjoyed playing the sport).
* Talk to your child about the pros and cons of quitting, and try to create opportunities if the child would like to one day play again. Remember, we are talking about kids, and they sometimes change their minds!
* If your child decides to quit, be sure to come up with alternative ideas for use of his or her time in lieu of sports. Check out what other school or community activities might be available.
* Fully accept the decision your child makes, and support him throughout the process. It will only make things tougher for your child if it is clear that you do not support the decision, or if you force your child to continue playing when it is clear he no longer wants to.
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