It’s 8 AM on a Saturday morning and your child’s Little League game starts in ten minutes. Sure enough, the house is a mess of flying gear, but the glove you need is nowhere to be found. It’s a relief when your child says, “Can’t I just QUIT?”
Sports can be a great way for kids to test their limits, improve their patience, and learn the meaning of teamwork. But sometimes a particular sport or team is just not a good fit.
So when is it okay for kids to cut and run? When is it okay for them to throw in the towel and pack up the gear? We consulted Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA), a countrywide network of coaches and athletes whose National Advisory Board includes such sports legends as football player Ronnie Lott. PCA has spent the last decade promoting teamwork and character in youth sports.
Not surprisingly, the organization urges parents to remember why they got their kids involved in the first place-- sports have value, not just in spite of hard challenges but because of them. As Executive Director Jim Thompson likes to say, “Sports is an endless procession of teachable moments.” Don’t let your kids quit, he says, just because the going gets tough.
Still, says spokesman David Jacobson, while quitting a team or a sport is a last resort, once in a while it may be necessary. Here are three potentially good reasons:
- Physical Safety. Against the urgings of doctors as well as groups like PCA, youth athletes in some sports may be pushed too far too early, risking serious injuries with lifelong risks. In this case, the decision should be quick. Jacobson says, “Get out.”
- Emotional Safety. This is a trickier category, but a crucial one. If your child runs into conflicts with teammates or a coach, you should always seek first to resolve them, and give it more than one try. But if these steps fail and issues are serious, says Jacobson, it may be necessary to leave. Still, he says, “Don’t leave the sport—just that particular team.”
- Overcommitment. Kids can feel overwhelmed when they are balancing sports with homework, friends, and everything else on their plates. But it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Instead of dropping sports, PCA recommends taking things down a notch. Your child does not have to train for the Olympics to enjoy the benefits of physical activity; there are many less demanding but very rewarding levels of play. “The physical benefits, including being able to relax and to focus, pay off later on,” says Jacobson, and adds that research has shown that sports can help kids better handle school challenges.
So the next time you find yourself on your belly, fishing under the couch for mouth guards, try to resist the urge to give up. For adults and kids alike, sports offer plenty of curve balls—and plenty of chances to learn to hit them in stride.