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Keep Your Child From Being a Quitter

If your child wants to quit sports, first find out why.

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Updated April 19, 2014

Boy stretching in gym class

Is "quitter" always a bad word?

D. Berry / Photolink

If your child plays sports, sooner or later you'll deal with a declaration of "I quit!" But before you say no—fearing your child will be branded a quitter for life—hear him out, and try to understand his motives.

Better yet, develop an anti-quitting plan even before he signs up for a new sport. Lisa Belkin, former author of the New York Times parenting blog Motherlode, explained her sensible, workable philosophy this way in a post on quitters: "If you commit to a team you have to see the season through. If there is a financial outlay you have to promise a certain time commitment at the start. And if you want to quit because you are being hurt, physically or emotionally, then that cancels out all of the above."

Questions to Ask

If you haven't previously laid out a plan like Belkin's, or you aren't sure whether your child qualifies for one of the safe "outs" Belkin lists, start asking questions (sensitively—this isn't a homicide investigation; your child will be more responsive if you choose a time and place that's comfortable to him). Try:

  • You seemed really interested when you first signed up. What's changed?
  • Have you been disappointed by your performance, or your team's?
  • How do you think your coach/teammates would feel if you left the team?
  • Is there something else you would prefer to do instead?
  • Would you like to play the same sport, but on a different team?
  • Would you like to continue to learn this sport, just not right now?
  • Would you like to try a similar sport?

Next Steps When a Child Wants to Quit

Depending on what you've learned from conversations with your athlete, consider whether it's worth pushing to change her mind. Chat with the coach or teacher, who might have some helpful insights.

If you decide that your child needs to stick with the sport, make sure she knows why and for how long: "We've invested in these classes and the necessary equipment, so you need to continue until the end of this session. After that, you can try something different if you'd like."

If you determine that quitting really is the right move—say, your child's grades or her health are suffering—praise her for knowing herself well enough to make the difficult choice, and for coming to you for help. Remind her that she can try again later if she wants to, or seek an alternative. She might enjoy the same sport on a less competitive team, for example, or an individual version of an activity instead of a team (or vice versa).

Quitting doesn't have to be the negative it's often made out to be. After all, as Belkin writes, "Dabbling is not failure, it is the only way to find a 'fit.'" The more opportunities your child has to try new sports and physical activities, the more chance he has of finding a lifelong love.

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