Quitting time? Knowing when kids should walk away from their sport

Quitting has such a stigma around it. We want our kids to be able to weather the inevitable ups and downs of life, without just running away when things get hard.


Written by Sarah Straton

She said she didn’t want to quit. I encouraged her to anyway.

Quitting has such a stigma around it. We want our kids to be able to weather the inevitable ups and downs of life, without just running away when things get hard. We don’t want to think of our kids as “quitters”, yet there is more to the decision than just dropping out… or sucking it up and sticking with it.

I’m going to give you some ideas of how to help your child go through the decision-making process and how to make it less likely that they’ll want to quit in the first place.

First, a story.

Both my kids started taekwondo after attending a friend’s birthday party at a dojo. It was exciting to get the uniform, to learn kicks and punches, to grunt loudly with every effort, to earn new stripes and belts. My son trained at home every day and was always excited to go to practice.  It was different for my daughter. She seemed reluctant to attend each week. She took the longest water breaks of anyone in her group and really seemed like she was just going through the motions. Still, she didn’t want to quit the sport or even take a break.

It was time to dig deeper. After many conversations, we got to the bottom of it. She was worried that if she quit, her little brother would get to the next level before she did. Her fear of falling behind him was getting in the way her doing something she really loved (by sticking with something she didn’t). People are different. What is one person’s favorite sport may not be fun at all for someone else.  Once she realized that she didn’t have to be like her brother, she easily walked away from taekwondo. She joined a dance class and never looked back!

Fast forward a couple of months. My son was still practicing his moves at home, but started not wanting to go to practice. He told me he wanted to drop out. His sister had quit, so surely he could, too, right? Not so fast. Time for more digging. Here’s what we came up with. He still loved taekwondo.  He loved his friends there.  He loved his teacher.  It turned out that the big issue was how he was being treated by some of the young assistants. He didn’t want to subject himself to their shame and criticism each week. Now we had something concrete to deal with! A simple conversation with the head teacher changed everything. After that, he was back with gusto and delighted not to have walked away.


When our kids want to quit, it’s important to dig deeper, to figure out what’s really going on.  As hard as it is, we have to try to suspend our judgement and listen with curiosity. We’re not here to change their minds, but to support them in exploring the issues. They get a chance to practice making decisions when we help them weigh up the pros and cons.  They think of themselves as problem solvers when we allow them to figure out what their best course of action is.

Here are some questions to ask when they feel like quitting:

1.     What drew you to the sport in the first place? We can help them think back to when they first started. What did they like about it? Did they play so they could be with their friends? Maybe they watched the pros compete. Do they still like to do that? What was fun about it?

2.     If you were to close your eyes and imagine yourself in a few years, do you still see yourself playing this sport? If there were no stress of competition (or pressure from parents), is this a sport they see themselves enjoying for fun?

3. What is different now from when you started? What changed for them? They used to like it, so what factors are contributing to them wanting to quit? Is it coaches yelling? Is it friend drama? Is it pressure from parents?

4. If you could wave a magic wand, what would you do to change things? There are no wrong answers here. This is their time to dream of the perfect scenario, no matter how realistic (or not) their ideas are. Their responses also help point us in the direction of what's really bothering them.

5. How do you feel when you think about practicing (or competing)? Are they afraid, anxious, tired, or frustrated? The answers to these questions really help us get to the root causes of them wanting to walk away. We're trying to understand where they're coming from, not to tell them why they shouldn't be feeling that way.

6. Is it worth fighting for? If they still like the sport and their team, what are they willing to put up with to stay?

7. What would it take for you to finish out the season? Sometimes, if the situation is abusive and all attempts to change things have failed, it’s totally appropriate to withdraw in mid-season. Usually, however, they will be willing to deal with the challenges when they focus on what they really like about their sport.

8. What would you like to do next? This is the time to make a plan for moving forward. We can brainstorm ideas with them for fixing the things they’re struggling with. We might help them rehearse a conversation to have with their coach, or with a teammate. It could be an opportunity to rethink how they view their coach's feedback. This is where they may choose to set some goals with clear actionable steps.

Quitting may be preventable It can be frustrating to have a child want to drop out in the middle of a season. We’ve already paid the fees and we feel a sense of responsibility to the team. Prior to signing up, here are some suggestions to make it more likely that they’ll stick it out:

1. Set realistic expectations- They need to know what they’re getting into. Before the season begins, we can talk to them about what the commitment entails.  Make sure they know about how many practices they’ll have and the game or tournament schedule. It’s also helpful for them to be aware of what a typical practice might be like.

2. Talk about the challenges- There will usually be times they don’t feel going to practice. They might be tired. They might be having a hard time with one of their teammates. If they think about these obstacles before they start, they’ll be prepared with how they might address them if they come up.

3. Keep the door open for communication-  There are usually signs that a child is struggling long before they tell us they want to quit. If we’re having ongoing conversations about life in general, they’ll let us know how they’re feeling about their sport.  It’s much easier to address the issues before they get too big .

The decision whether to stay or leave is complicated.  In careers. In relationships. In sports. I really want my kids to understand that it’s not simply about how you feel on any given day. There are many factors to consider. I want them to know that, after carefully looking at the big picture and deciding whether a situation can be resolved, they have a choice.  They don’t have to stick with a job they’re miserable in.  They can leave a relationship that’s not healthy. They can also work to make things better.

There’s no shame in walking away. There are also many situations worth battling for. Sometimes quitting creates an opportunity to find your passion and sometimes you don't realize how much something means to you until you make the decision to stay and fight for it.