Top 3 Misconceptions Parents Have Around ‘Quitting’ Sports

sports Feb 24, 2022

If you’re like a lot of parents, you’ve probably felt the frustration of a child committing to a sport only to ‘quit’ halfway through the season.

It can leave you questioning why you even bother with organized sports in the first place.

After all, it’s not free - the money and time investment can be substantial. And when a child says they’re ‘done’ before the season is over, it can be maddening. 

But we often overlook the root causes of why they suddenly lose interest in a sport.

It comes down to three misconceptions we tend to have around ‘quitting’.

Common misconceptions around quitting

  1. If my child quits now, they will be a quitter for life.
  2. They are capable of understanding what it means to commit to something long-term.
  3. They’re just lazy if they lack the motivation to continue.

These are by far the most common concerns parents share with me when their child quits a sport.

It’s helpful to remember that the answers lie inside your child’s brain… which won’t be fully developed until they’re much older! 

Did you know that the part of the brain which is responsible for understanding consequences, forward planning, logical reasoning, good decision-making, focus, attention, motivation and productivity the (pre-frontal cortex)-  doesn’t FULLY develop until age 25-30?! 

So we, as parents, need to adjust our expectations because we’re asking our children to do something their brains just aren’t capable of….yet. They literally cannot understand what they’re signing up for because they don’t have the brain capacity to grasp the longevity and impact of a decision like that.

Why do children lose motivation to finish a sport they’ve committed to?

There can be many reasons why a child loses interest in a sport, but they can generally be boiled down to one (or more) of the following:

‘It’s not fun any more’

Sometimes our children find that a sport they were expecting would be fun just… isn’t. Maybe it’s too competitive as they get older. Maybe they don’t feel confident in their abilities. A variety of reasons can contribute to a sport losing its appeal.

And that’s ok because people are allowed to change their mind. 

It’s not just something adults get to do!

It’s vital we avoid sending the message that they’re not allowed to ‘let people down’. None of us are responsible for the feelings of others. Forcing our kids to prioritize the needs of others breeds people-pleasers and adults who were trained to betray themselves as kids.

Instead, we want to be teaching our kids to honor what THEY need/want, but we can scaffold them in how they problem solve a situation where they want to change their mind.

They feel too much pressure from parents and / or coaches

When we build our expectations around how our children should be performing, it’s a recipe for disaster. Too much pressure can actually have the opposite effect, and lead to a lack of motivation and engagement if a child thinks they’re unable to live up to the standards set by adults.

They think they ‘suck’ as a student athlete

At the age of 12-13 years, children begin to compare themselves with others at a greater intensity than before. They worry much more often about what other people think of them, particularly if they’re not competitive in their chosen sport.

Comparing ourselves to others is a normal part of child development, and a critical part of adolescence: caring A LOT about what others think, and wanting to ‘fit in.’ If a student doesn’t feel good enough about their sporting ability, and they’re increasingly concerned about the opinions of others, that may be what’s motivating your child to quit.

What are the most effective ways to approach the situation when a child wants to quit?

  1. Prevention

They say ‘prevention is better than cure’ and it certainly rings true with child sports.

The most effective approach is to fully examine a sport before committing long-term. 

  • If possible, ask if they’re able to trial the sport or at least go and watch others play.
  • Have a conversation around what you’re going to do if there is a day they don’t want to compete, or they want to quit. This puts it on their radar and can be helpful if / when they decide a sport isn’t for them.
  • Don’t be tied to hard and fast rules. By framing your expectations with prevention in mind before your child begins a sport, you’ll minimize the frustration you feel if the wheels fall off.
  1. Curiosity

Put on your detective hat and investigate why your child has the urge to quit. Maybe they were laughed at in the change rooms. Or they missed a shot. Or they feel like they don’t fit in.

Asking ‘what’s changed?’ and ‘what’s stopping you from wanting to play?’ are great places to start.

When you know why they want to quit, you can come up with a plan to address their challenges. You’re also showing that you empathize with their situation and they can trust you. This builds connection and increases the likelihood of them approaching you with other challenges as they age.

  1. Collaborative problem solving

Rather than dictating a solution, try collaborating with your child to solve the problem. Think of it as providing scaffolding for them to come up with their own plan of attack. When they identify the problem and you support them in finding a solution it increases the likelihood that they’ll stick with it because they have ownership of the plan.

Key takeaways

Being controlling, shaming or hypercritical will shut your child down and decrease the connection they feel with you. This creates a relationship where they don’t feel comfortable sharing their problems - whether that’s in sport or in life. 

We want to be creating an environment that builds connection and helps motivate our children to thrive. When we do this we’ll keep them engaged with sport and strengthen the bond we share inside and outside the arena!

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