Helping Your Young Athlete Through the “I Want to Quit” Stage

While it’s natural that a young athlete does not want to go to practice on occasion, it’s a problem when the child rarely wants to go. Here’s a look at why this happens and how it can be solved.

I was recently invited to participate in a parent and coach round table discussion for a sports team. But this time, I was sitting on the other side of the table and participating as a parent. What an interesting and refreshing perspective. The open forum provided an interactive opportunity for parents and coaches to discuss any subject pertaining to the sport. Interestingly enough, the questions were similar in nature and centered around the recurring theme of, “My child used to love (name the sport), but now he/she no longer wants to go to practice and/or no longer wants to participate in the sport,” and, “How do I get my child excited for practices/meets when they are no longer excited about the sport?”

While it is natural that a young athlete does not want to go to practice on occasion, it is a problem when the child rarely wants to go to practice. In the parent and coach forum, the response to this issue varied between two camps:

  1. The “too bad, you’re playing anyway” camp
  2. The “I’ve tried everything, and I am ready to let him/her quit to keep the peace” camp.

Initial reactions, yes, but there are other variables that need to be analyzed before such drastic actions are taken.

Who Really Chose the Sport?

The first question to ask is, “Who wants or wanted to play the sport to begin with – the parent or the child?” When our children are young, they have little say in what sport they play. Usually, the choice is a matter of convenience for the parent – practices are nearby, other children in the family play the same sport, or it is the only sport offered for the age group. Perhaps, the parent chose the sport because he or she played it as a youth athlete and wants the child to have the same positive experiences. Maybe, the parent played the sport as a young athlete and wants to coach or volunteer for the child’s team. Possibly, the parent is still active in the sport and sees this as an opportunity to train with the child and spend quality time together. These are all inspiring and valid reasons for initially choosing a sport for your child. The issue, then, arises when the child is old enough (or willful enough) to undermine our best intentions as a parent.

The Reasons Children Stop Playing

This brings us to our second point – the real reason the young athlete suddenly (or gradually) wants to stop playing the sport. Is the young athlete mentally or physically burned out from the sport and needs a break? Has the young athlete entered a new competitive level and practices are suddenly harder? Has the young athlete hit a growth spurt and is no longer as coordinated as he or she previously was? Does the young athlete want to try a different sport? Was there an issue or incident at a practice or game that you are unaware of?

What we, as adults, think of as an inconsequential issue may affect a young athlete’s psyche to the point that he or she is willing to give up the sport. While the youth athlete may not realize the true reason for his or her sudden lack of interest in the sport, as a supportive parent, it is our responsibility to talk to and listen to our children, while helping them work through the issue.

Getting Your Child Athlete Back in the Game

How do you get your young athlete back on track? Communication! Set aside time with your young athlete and ask about his or her goals for the sport. There are many reasons that a child wants to participate in a sport. Is it for social reasons? Does your child dream of being a professional athlete or dream of being an Olympian? Does your child play for the sheer love of the sport? Is your child able to handle the pressure of games or meets? What does your child want to achieve within the sport?

Just as our young athlete needs to communicate his or her goals with us, we need to communicate our goals to our young athlete. It is important that parents outlines their expectations of the child in the sport – being ready for practice, knowing where to be and when to be there, giving 100% effort, and good sportsmanship, for example. Open and continuing communication between the parent and the child will do wonders for the developing athlete’s psyche. Not only will the child have parental support and encouragement, but the parents will also be involved in the child’s sport.

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Enroll the Coach in Enrolling Your Child

While communication between the parent and young athlete is essential, so is communication with the coach. The communication triad (athlete-coach-parent communication) is essential to a well-run sports program and can make all the difference between a positive sport experience and a negative one. If the child’s sudden (or gradual) lack of interest in the sport cannot be resolved through parent-child communication, then it is essential to inform the coach of the issue. Many times, the coach can offer suggestions that will renew the child’s interest in the sport or offer recommendations to help the athlete work through the issue.

It is also important to know and understand the coach’s expectations and goals for the team and for the individual athlete. For example, if the coach has the expectation that everyone on the team wants to qualify for a national championship, but your athlete is participating in the sport for social reasons, then the coach may have a different approach to your child’s practices and games. But, just as often, the coach can see the potential athletic ability of the young athlete, and challenge that ability, even if the child or parent does not yet see it. No matter what the issue, it is important that the parent or child (if age appropriate) communicate all concerns to the coach.

Just as your child is part of a sports team, you, your child, and the coach are a team, as well – working together in your young athlete’s best interests. Through goal setting, clear expectations, and open and continuing communication, your athlete’s positive sport experience can greatly influence his or her future athletic development and psyche.

Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.