Playing sports is wildly beneficial for kids of all ages. It fosters physical, emotional, and social development and teaches teamwork, grit, goal setting, and commitment. So what if your son suddenly says he’s sick of lacrosse? Should you let him quit the team or make him stick with it? It’s a tricky call. On one hand, you want to encourage perseverance and physical activity, and you don’t want to let you child make a rash decision he’ll later regret. On the other hand, you want him to be happy and let his interests dictate his activities.
Experts say the key to determining if quitting is a good or bad idea is communication. The problem is that kids, especially teenagers, aren’t always forthcoming about their feelings. In some cases, they might not even realize how they truly feel about their sport, leaving you to do the guesswork. Here are six signs that it may be best to let them quit.
She’s Just Not Having Fun
Besides the many positive health and social aspects of kids’ sports, the No. 1 goal should be having fun. “If your child is experiencing more frustration than pleasure, or she’s simply not enjoying her sport, consider switching her to a different activity,” says Patrick Cohn, a mental training expert and founder of Peak Performance Sports in Orlando, Florida.
Activity hopping is very common among younger children, who are still forging their identities and figuring out what they find fun, says Martin Camiré, a sports psychology and youth development expert at the University of Ottawa. But even as kids grow older and start specializing, it’s important to check in with them periodically to make sure they’re still enjoying swim team or basketball. “Let them know you fully support them in their sport, but if they’re not liking it anymore and want to try something else, you’re open to that as well,” Camiré says. “If kids feel like they have some autonomy over the decision, they’ll be more compelled to tell you if they’re not having fun.”
It Gives Him Major Anxiety
There’s a fine line between pregame jitters and full-blown, all-consuming anxiety, Camiré says, and parents need to monitor their kids closely to tell the difference. “A bit of performance anxiety before competitions is a healthy part of the experience,” he explains. “But if they’re stressing about practice days in advance, if their schoolwork or social life is suffering because all they can think about is football, or if they’re acting anxious no matter what they’re doing, it’s time to reconsider whether this is the best experience for your child.”
She Has Stopped Trying
A younger child’s motivation for joining soccer or T-ball may be more about hanging out with friends and playing outside than it is about achieving athletic goals — and there’s nothing wrong with that, says Camiré. You also shouldn’t sweat it if your older child wants to play a rec-level sport “just for fun” and doesn’t give it her all each game. However, if you’re sinking major dollars into equipment, tournament fees, and travel year after year and your kid could care less about whether she performs well or not, it’s probably time for a serious conversation. “Parents want to know that they’re getting a return on their investment,” Camiré says. “If a kid just isn’t motivated to try or compete anymore, it may be better to cut both of your losses and move on.”
He’s Playing Just to Please You
Whether it’s a dad reliving his quarterback glory days vicariously through his son or a mom pushing her daughter to stick with soccer so she can score a college scholarship, parents sometimes become more invested in their kids’ sports than they are. In these cases, kids usually start playing because they had fun at first, says Cohn, but now they’re staying in it just to please their parents. “When a kid’s sole motivation is making you happy, that’s not a good sign,” he says.
Sometimes the gap between your interest and theirs isn’t the result of anything you did wrong. “At a certain age, kids become cognizant of the time, money, and passion parents put into their sport and may feel obliged to continue,” Camiré says. You don’t want to send the message that it’s okay to bail on commitments, he insists. But if you’re the only one getting psyched for the big game, make sure he’s playing for his sake, not yours.
He’s Suffered Too Many Injuries
The risk of injury is simply part of sports. However, if your kid is chronically hurt, has already had multiple surgeries, or is spending more time rehabbing than playing, you may want to weigh whether it’s all worth it, says Cohn. “If a soccer player is on the bench half the time, it isn’t much fun,” he explains. Kids who desperately want to play but can’t because of injury also run the risk of becoming depressed. Additionally, you have to consider the long-term ramifications of frequent injuries. “You don’t want your kid to get to 30 or 40 years old and not be able to walk,” Cohn says. In that regard, Camiré believes chronic concussions are another sign that perhaps your child should hang it up.
She Has a Bully Coach
Sadly, kids’ sports are full of intimidating and verbally abusive coaches. “This is a real problem,” says Cohn. “Coaches are not held to the same high standards that teachers are. And because they control kids’ playing time and positions, they can get away with so much more.” If a coach is causing your child major stress, or if she’d rather sweep the kitchen than go to practice, find another team if possible, Cohn says. If that’s not an option — say, if she plays high school volleyball and there isn’t a competitive club team she could join instead — and if your talks with school or league administrators have been fruitless, it might be healthier for her to quit the sport.