Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Posts Tagged ‘quitting

It's OK to be a quitter

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It’s usually treated as some sort of national tragedy that, depending on what statistics are pulled out of what ass, anywhere from 70-80 percent of children in organized sports quit by the time they’re 13.

If you believe that all those quitting kids are a result of them being drummed out of sports they love because of too much organization and too many yelling coaches, then, yes, that’s a problem. However, I’m not sure that — if I may reach into my own ass to pull out some statistics — that 85 percent of those children leaving sports are doing so because they’ve found something else (hopefully productive) they’d rather do.

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“No mas.”

As a coach and a parent, I’m a big believer that a child, even in the face of a lousy coach and a poorly run program, doesn’t quit a sport he or she truly loves. Also, I believe that part of childhood is flitting about from activity to activity, taking what my wife cheekily calls a logical path of self-discovery (a term she coined for my peripatetic early employment career) to determine one’s passions. So, quitting teams becomes a fairly frequent occurrence.

That’s the mindset I brought while reading this Los Angeles Times article in which a mother wrings her hands over the ass-pullingly high quit rate as her 8-year-old son tells her he wants to quit football in an article titled, “When is it OK to let kids be quitters?”

The issue of kids quitting — music lessons, summer camp, sports — has long been tough on parents.

My own quitting dilemma began the way many parent-child negotiations do: with begging. My son Bob had been pleading with me for months for permission to play tackle football. He offered to take out the trash. Clean his room. He even promised to be nice to his sister. Finally, when his teacher told me that Bob had taught his classmates how to go out for passes, I caved. …

But the intensity of the conditioning was unlike anything Bob had experienced. The boys did up-downs until their faces turned purple. They were forced to run laps holding hands as a punishment. While there was an emphasis on teamwork — in theory, football is supposed to be the ultimate team sport — there was a profound absence of positive reinforcement.

So after 13 weeks, and just before the season ended, my son did what his gut told him to do: He quit.

“It’s not fun,” he said wearily. “And I’m tired of the coaches making me feel badly about myself.”

It was a difficult moment. I didn’t approve of one coach’s treatment of the boys, but was it really OK to quit? Would it make Bob a quitter? How does a parent know when it’s time to quit or when it’s time to insist that children stick to what they start?

My only ironclad rule, for my own kids, in quitting is this: Once you commit, you’re in until the season or activity is over. It’s fair to no one if a child quits in the middle of something. It also doesn’t teach your child anything about sticking out a promise, one made implicitly to you as parents, to coaches and to teammates.

At the end of the season, it’s a different story. My 12-year-old, my eldest, has been his three siblings’ sport and activity canary in the coalmine, trying out soccer, baseball, wrestling, basketball, volleyball and hockey, as well as theater, band, robotics, battle-of-the-books team, so with him in particular we’ve had a lot of conversations about quitting sports that ended with my son, indeed, quitting sports.

As a coach, I’ve dealt with players who clearly want no part of playing a sport, on a team, under any circumstance. Instead of the parents trying to convince their kids to stick with it, they would be better served figuring out another activity. It happens. My 12-year-old son, who quit baseball at 9 because, I thought, of a bad experience with a coach and teammates, will not play organized baseball, even intramural wiffle ball, again under any circumstances. He was never interested in playing catch, unlike his siblings, so it was clear he was wired not to care about baseball.

It also happens that sometimes there is a mismatch between the kid and the organization in question, that the child likes a sport, but not how it’s done in a certain league. The L.A. Times writer found a flag football league for her son that was much less intense, and he’s enjoying the game again. If you’re concerned that your child is quitting because of a bad experience, finding another league — if possible — might work, at least to find out for sure if your child just doesn’t like a sport after all.

So before you, as a parent, beg your kid to keep playing, ask yourself whether the child actually enjoys the sports, and the organized nature of it, or whether it’s time to bag it. Remember, you’ve probably watched your child play, so you have a sense of whether this is working out. If a sport doesn’t work out, there are a lot of activities out there for kids. A big reason for that stat on 13-year-olds quitting is not just because they’re weeded out along the way by zealous coaches and the youth sports-industrial complex. Children also weed themselves out in favor of activities they feel passionate about.

Quitting a sport doesn’t make your kid a quitter. It makes your kid a kid.

Written by rkcookjr

June 12, 2010 at 12:41 am

Why kids quit sports: a question of cost-benefit analysis

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Quitters never win? Dr. John obviously never played youth football.

The conventional wisdom is that by age 13, kids are quitting youth sports in droves. Maybe a little beforehand, maybe at that age, but 13 is the Berlin Wall of youth sports, scaled only by those who can avoid the Checkpoint Charlies of lousy coaches, crazy parents and any predisposition to being a spazz.

A lot of people see such a mass decline as a national scandal, such as whomever handles the Web site for NHL’s Colorado Avalanche. “According to a Michigan State University study, over 70% of kids quit sports by age 13,” it says on the Avalanche Cares youth sports and parenting site. “For professional sports, that is the equivalent of losing one potential Michael Jordan or Mike Modano a week. In addition, there is no way of knowing the impact on the talent pool of business leaders and other professions where continued sports participation helps develop critical life skills.”

I don’t see it that way. I don’t believe Barack Obama’s plan to turn around the economy rests on whether some 11-year-old is pissed off at his basketball coach, nor do I believe the Michael Jordans and Mike Modanos being lost — believe me, the recruiting apparatus is sophisticated enough that someone with that level of talent has an agent by age 7.

I’m also not of the mind of another theory, that kids quit because they’re spoiled brats who can’t handle life outside the everybody-gets-a-trophy bubble.

I think it goes like this: kids do a basic cost-benefit analysis of whether a sport is worth their time. They take into account their own interest, their likelihood of advancing to higher competition (I don’t mean pro or college — it’s even whether they think they might someday make the junior high team), their enjoyment of the atmosphere surrounding the sport, and the overall time the activity takes.

The first item is the most important in the cost-benefit analysis. If a child is truly interested in a sport, he or she will stick with it no matter what the competition, the dickish coach, the insane parents or the 10 hours a week of practice. If a child is not, the rest of that stuff will suddenly start mattering.

This factors into the question of whether you should allow your child to quit a sport. I’m a believer that once you start a season, you should finish it. You’ve made the commitment, after all. But I’ve never forced my children into a specific sport because, in my own cost-benefit analysis, it’s a pain in the ass and a waste of time for me to shuffle kids to play sports they don’t like, that I then have to sit and watch them not enjoy. I’ve got four kids. I don’t have time for this.

Written by rkcookjr

September 15, 2009 at 5:54 pm

Posted in parenting, Sports

Tagged with , , , ,

When to let your kid quit

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New York Times’ Motherlode blog brings up a thorny question in the households of sports families — when is a child allowed to quit?9588687_b9cc351918_m

Believe it or not, it’s a question that’s never come up in my house. At least, not in terms of wanting to stomp off in the middle of a season. There’s been dabbling, particularly with my oldest children. My 12-year-old son has retired from soccer, baseball and wrestling, while my 10-year-old (as of tomorrow) daughter no longer needs her soccer gear. Then again, we’ve never pressured our children (as far as we know) into a certain sport because it’s good for them.

With four kids, I’m at the opposite end — talking them out of sports and activities they don’t appear to love with every fiber of my being. Especially hockey.  When my oldest son, who has played pickup games and taken hockey classes, said he might be interested in joining a league, I told him it was $1,500 and that he would be playing most every day. So, I ask you, son, do you love hockey, or do you kinda like it? “I kinda like it,” he said. “OK, then, no hockey,” I said. Turns out he much more enjoys putting on his in-line skates, popping some punk and metal on the iPod and zipping around the neighborhood to getting yelled at on the ice.

Back to quitting, I would say I’m hardly out of the mainstream in thinking that I would prefer if my child starts a season with a team, he or she should end it, and then quit. But I can see quitting under certain scenarios:

1. The coach and/or the other players are abusive. Not a little bit of teasing, or a coach who doesn’t worship the ground you walk on. I’m at most every game, anyway, and I coach, too. I know what abusive means.

2. The child clearly does not enjoy the sport. By that I mean you’re halfway through the season and the child prefers picking dandelions to kicking a soccer ball, or playing right field. That it’s a fight to get your child to every practice or game. You’ve already tried the “commit-through-the-season” speech, and it’s just not working. Some kids just don’t like certain activities. If it’s that bad, there’s no lesson your child is going to learn by sticking it out other than you’re unreasonable. Certainly, there will be other activities, sports or not, your child will enjoy, and you can always make finding another one a prerequisite for quitting. No sense making your life hell because your child is so unhappy.

3. Your work schedule changes, and you can’t get your child to practices or games. As a coach, I try to tell parents in this situation that we can make arrangements to have other parents help out. However, usually a child quits because of No. 3 when the indications of No. 2 are already in play.

Of course, some of you parents already know when you should not allow your child to quit under any circumstance. That’s when your child is on a travel team, has been for years, and your child quitting would shut you out from the exclusive, snotty social circle you’ve built with the other travel parents. Sometimes you have to let your children know it’s not always about themselves.