If Your Child Wants to Quit a Sport, Let Them

It feels like a right of passage to fall in and out of love with sports and activities in our youth. It's the time when you're figuring out what you like, what you don't like, who you are, and who you want to become. It's the time to make mistakes and learn from them. It's also the time to listen to your parents.

I can still hear my 14-year-old self telling my mother, "I don't want to play basketball anymore." She approached the conversation tentatively, but firm in one position: "You have to do something, even if it isn't basketball." We looked at my options and talked about why I didn't want to play anymore. It wasn't that I hated the sport; I just didn't love it anymore. I also wanted to try out for the cheer team instead. I finished out the year with the intention of quitting. And so I did.

When we let our children quit something that truly makes them unhappy, we empower them to listen to their intuition and pursue a path that will bring them joy.

We all want our children to persevere and be persistent in their "work," whether that's school, sports, or other activities like choir or band. We want to teach them the importance of pushing through the hard times and reaching goals. We often do that by forcing them to stick with something whether they like it or not because we want them to value that effort. But what if forcing a child to stay with an activity that they want to quit backfires? What if it makes them hate it even more? What if they become resentful? What if they feel hopeless and powerless because they feel like they get no say in the matter?

When my mom considered the option of letting me quit something that I didn't love anymore, she showed me that my voice mattered; what I cared about mattered. When she actually let me quit, she showed me that no matter what is happening in my life, if I'm not happy with it, I can take the steps to change my course to something that brings me joy, albeit doing so responsibly. She never forced me to continue just for the sake of not quitting.

If your child approaches you with the idea that they are unhappy with an activity in their life, the best thing we can do is help them explore the root of the issue. It isn't up to us to decide what they should like, or who they should become. Some questions that we can ask them are: why don't you like it anymore? Are there any steps that you think would make it more enjoyable? Are you set on not doing it anymore? What would you like to try instead?

There is more to life beyond sports (gasp!), so if you have a child that would rather take art classes or learn to program video games, let them. When we let our children quit something that truly makes them unhappy, we empower them to listen to their intuition and pursue a path that will bring them joy. They will carry that lesson throughout their entire lives.

When we find out the root cause of the issue, we allow them space to figure out what is going on. Maybe they don't actually want to quit, but they just don't like the position they are in or the instrument they are playing or they had a fight with their best friend that they sit beside during class. Whatever the issue, our only job as parents is to listen and honor their feelings, then do what we can to guide them through the situation.