What To Do When Your Child Wants To Quit Sports

Understanding the 'why' can help guide the decision
Upset child with basketball

It’s a phrase repeatedly heard in every sport, every season, every year. “I quit!” So what’s a parent to do when these words ring out across the playing field?

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Your child’s decision could be as vital as an umpire’s call in a close game. The determination could make a difference in his or her life.

More than 20 million children register annually for youth sports, according to the National Alliance for Youth Sports. Seventy percent of these children quit by the time they turn 13, and never play again.

Why children quit sports

The top three reasons kids quit? Unrealistic expectations from coaches and parents, it’s not fun to play anymore, and the child’s own belief that they don’t measure up to other athletes.

This desire to quit, however, often leaves parents wondering if their child will become a quitter and always give up when the going gets tough. “Fortunately, there is little evidence to support any of these fears,” says pediatric psychiatrist Joseph Austerman, DO.

Other reasons for kids wanting to quit, he says, include embarrassment from peers, competing interests and external pressures for time. Sometimes, the child simply doesn’t have the attention span necessary to play the sport. This is especially true for younger kids. 

The decision to quit is less significant when a child is younger. As a child gets older, it affects both the players and the parents. At 4 years old, it’s probably OK if your child wants to quit T-ball. But if you have a 12-year-old coach potato, sports can be a great way to get them up, active and interacting with other kids their age.

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And research shows that children who play sports tend to stay in school, get better grades and exhibit better behavior. With this in mind, no parent wants to let their child quit so easily.

How to talk to your child about quitting (or not)

The best way to avoid the desire to quit is to prepare children before they join a sport. “Consider with your child what they naturally enjoy doing and what physical strengths they have,” Dr. Austerman says. “Talk about the time commitment and let them know your expectations on following through.”

But if you’re already in a situation where your child wants to quit, your first job is to investigate what’s behind this motivation to quit.

Ask your child what has changed about his or her excitement for a given sport. Inquire as to what specifically stops them from wanting to play.

Once you have a general sense for the reason for wanting to quit, the next step is to engage your child on how best to manage his or her commitment to the sport. Have him or her participate in the problem-solving process. Ask your child to identify the problem and say what they could do to make the experience better.

One more serious thing to pay attention for is when your child is being harassed or humiliated by others, Dr. Austerman says. “All too often this can be the underlying trigger for a child going from loving a sport to wanting to quit.”

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Talk to your child’s coach too

It’s also important for parents and coaches to communicate and work together to resolve the issue. If the problem is harassment from other kids, the coach can make a big difference in making sure this stops. If the issue is skills-related, parents and coaches can often work with the child to improve his or her playing skills.

Certified athletic trainer Bob Collins, ATC, says it’s critical for both parents and kids to be realistic about their skill level in a sport.

“Parents and student athletes need to be able to accept the truth about a child’s athletic ability and to remember that playing the sport is about more than being the best,” Collins says. “It’s about working together as a team and participating to the best of your ability.”

Participating in sports can be very positive experience, Dr. Austerman adds. However, it is a natural part of the learning process for children to experiment by trying different activities.

“Understanding your child’s motivations will help you to make the right decision together,” he says. “And remember that quitting a specific activity should not be equated to being a failure.” 

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