When to Let Your Child Stop Playing a Sport

March 9, 2016

It’s a conversation bound to happen sooner or later with one of the extracurricular activities your child partakes in: whether or not to stop participating. And no wonder, given that the Census Bureau estimated that in 2014, over half of every child participated in an extracurricular activity and that pressure to participate continues. Our kids are busy!

It can be hard for kids to broach this subject with their parents, whether because they don’t want to be perceived as “giving up” or are worried that mom or dad might get mad. That’s why it’s best to be prepared when it arises. Here’s what I suggest parents do to help navigate this sensitive and potentially difficult interaction.

Before you make a decision, talk to your child. Determine why they’ve lost interest.
Why do they want to stop? Uncovering the reasons will help you talk through what’s troubling them — it could be that a solution is easier to come by than they realize. Is there a particular skill they’re struggling with, or another kid on the team making them feel bad, or even worse, bullied? These problems can be more easily solved by talking to the coach, another parent, or by working one-on-one to improve that tricky skill. But if their reasons relate to interest in another activity, or exhaustion, or anxiety, you should consider allowing them to stop playing — and, in the event of stress, get them help.

Talk to the coach. He or she might be aware of something going on with your child that you’re not.
Let’s say you ask your son or daughter why they want to stop playing, and they don’t have an answer or avoid the question altogether. That’s when I always advocate for going directly to the coach and seeing what’s up. They see your child on the playing field and in the gym much more than you do, and can help give you some insight on team dynamics and individual struggles.

Evaluate your child’s schedule.
Do they have too much going on? Overscheduling effects kids from elementary school all the way through high school. Having too much on the agenda can contribute to your child feeling unmotivated. Kids get burned out, too, and their growing minds and bodies require more rest than our adult ones do.

Ask yourself an important question: was it you or them who wanted to start playing in the first place?
Remember that their participation or enjoyment in a given activity is not a reflection of you. It’s about whether they are enjoying what they’re doing, learning from it, and gaining experiences that will help in the rest of their lives. Putting pressure on them to continue doing something they don’t want to do will rob them of all the joy associated with the sport — and that’s something no child should be deprived of.

If you think through these key points before making the decision about whether to let your child leave the team, you will not only gain a better understanding of their real interests and concerns, but you’ll also reinforce their trust in you as their advocate.

One additional note: as a coach and a parent, I think it’s pretty darn important to encourage your child to finish out the season if they do decide they want to stop playing. This teaches a lifelong lesson about honoring your commitments and not letting your teammates down.

To learn more about being a champion sports parent, check out the advice in this recent post.