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When is it OK for my child to quit a sport?

There is no right or wrong answers about giving up a sport or when to quit. As a child, I was passionate about playing baseball and hockey, but I ended up quitting both sports as an adolescent. Unfortunately, I ended up later regretting it.

As a parent, pediatrician and former youth hockey coach, I can tell you that communicating with your young athlete is key. When I quit, I didn't talk to my parents about it, but I wish that I had. They might have steered me in a different direction or helped me through the difficulties I was having. Here are my pointers for communicating with your child and making the decision easier.  

  • Let your child determine which activities and sports to participate in. Encourage participation in a variety of sports to find out what your child enjoys. Continue exposure to new sports and offer new opportunities to play.  
  • Talk with your child about the commitment made to teammates and coaches. Try to see the season through. Early practices may be tough as your athlete adjusts to a new team, coach or sport. After the season is over, talk about the pros and cons. This can help narrow down future activity choices, and find the sport that best suits your child's skills and personality.  
  • Recognize that not all children will become professional athletes, but all children should be happy, learn and enjoy themselves. Talk with your child about the goals and expectations for participating in a sport. The level of play should be appropriate for your child's level of interest. For example, if your son is interested in a sport because his friend plays or for the socialization, then a recreational league would be a better fit than a competitive one.  
  • Acknowledge your athlete's reasons for wanting to quit. Younger children may have a difficult time articulating why, but as children get older, they tend to have an easier time understanding what they do or don't like about a sport. No matter your child's age, you can help work through issues, resolve conflict and calm fears.  
  • Discuss with your athlete the reasons to continue playing the sport. Work on these reasons together; you can suggest reasons, but also have your child suggest some, too. Reinforce that the main goal of playing sports is to have fun, it doesn't always have to be about being good. And it certainly shouldn't be to please you or the coach.  
  • Consider bringing the coach into the conversation. The coach may be able to offer suggestions, renewing your athlete's interest in the sport. Or sometimes, the coach's philosophy may not match your child's level of interest and a different level of play may be better.

The right time to quit a sport may be the end of a season for some athletes; however, there are situations where sticking it out for the season might not be the healthiest choice, if your child: 

  • struggles to meet the challenges of the activity
  • feels anxious about the sport
  • encounters negative effects in other areas of life
  • is overcommitted to too many demands
  • experiences low self-esteem or burnout

I found my way back to playing hockey in college as part of intramural leagues and, eventually, I became a youth hockey coach. I'm fortunate to have reconnected with a sport that makes me happy. Now, I also get to share my love of sports with my daughter. She isn't interested in playing hockey, and that's OK. I enjoy seeing her try new sports as she explores what is the right fit for her skills and passions.

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