by Brian Harrington

Has your athlete gone through a phase when they wanted to quit playing a sport? How should you react?

As litigators, we know that each case turns on its facts. Dealing with a child who wants to quit a sport is no different. My two daughters have committed to and then ultimately quit a sport, specifically, swimming. They started the sport for two different reasons and quit for different reasons. I do not pretend to have all the magic answers for dealing with these situations, but perhaps you can learn from my tale of two daughters.

My oldest daughter Emily started swimming when she was eight years old. Initially, she wanted to swim mainly for the fun of it. Then she found out she was talented. After winning the equivalent of an MVP award for her summer league team, she joined a year-round swim team. By age 12, she was a champion backstroker. She also was a member of a medley relay team that won the state championship and advanced to sectional competition in Atlanta, Georgia. Her relay team still holds the team record for the fastest time.

Once she became an eighth-grader, Emily was eligible to join her school’s high school swim team. In her first year, she beat juniors and seniors on her way to winning silver at the state championships. Emily repeated this feat as a ninth-grader.

By the time Emily turned 15, she was beginning to show signs of burnout. She was swimming almost every day for her year-round team and, in the fall, also swimming for her school team. Taking time off did not recharge her batteries, and she told my wife and me that she wanted to quit altogether. While we never required Emily to swim, we did encourage her to stick with it, if for no other reason than for the exercise and social aspect of the sport. However, after numerous discussions with her, we knew that Emily wanted to stop swimming for the right reasons. Thus, her career as a swimmer came to an end with our blessing.

The story of my youngest daughter Caroline is much simpler. She joined our year-round swim team because her older sister Emily swam, and she had friends on the team. Unlike Emily, Caroline did not care much for the competitive aspect of the sport. Judging by her reaction, you could not tell whether she came in first or last. Her main goal was to finish the race and get back to playing with her friends.

Once she became closer to her non-swim team friends, she asked if she could quit. As with Emily, my wife and I had never forced her to swim. After talking with her and ascertaining that she did not want to quit simply out of laziness or to spend more time on her phone, we allowed her to stop, also with our blessing.

My Advice
My primary tip in dealing with a child who wants to quit a sport is to reflect and listen. Reflect on why your child started the sport in the first place. If the why can be achieved by the child participating in another sport or activity, then I don’t see any harm in allowing the child to quit.

But before making any decision, the most important thing to do is to listen to the child. Why do they want to quit? What do they want to do instead? Do they want to quit simply because the sport is challenging, or do they want to quit because they truly get no enjoyment from it?

As with any other parenting aspect, reflection and listening are crucial to finding that sweet spot between letting your child do nothing at all—ever—and pushing the child too hard to play a sport they no longer are interested in.