They are lined up on his windowsill, from his first T-ball trophy in 2005 all the way up to a mosquito league hologram-effect glove and ball from 2009. But recently my 14-year-old son, Fox, announced he didn’t want to play baseball this coming summer. “I have too much stuff to do. And there’s a lot of standing around.”
I can see his point. Waiting for your turn at bat can feel like an eternity compared to water polo, his current fave sport, which demands perpetual motion unless you want to sink to the bottom of the pool. But, as his mom, I am having a harder time than he is dismissing an activity that saw him go from a nervous seven-year-old whose uniform swam on him to one of the team’s most accomplished hitters. Baseball helped give him confidence, the courage to face adversity and a sense of team spirit.
What’s the Score
Psychologist Dr. Robyn Odegaard, founder of Champion Performance Development and author of Stop the Drama! The Ultimate Guide to Female Teams (Champion PerformanceDevelopment), agrees. “I think that children who are involved in sports (provided the team is well run) and healthy peer group activities have an advantage in life over children who aren’t.”
There are many reasons why a teen might want to quit his sport, from boredom to stress, but the first step for parents is to listen to his reasoning. “Asking one question and allowing time for the child to answer will prompt a thoughtful response,” observes Dr. Odegaard. “A child who doesn’t feel heard will feel trapped and alone. No one needs that, especially during the tough adolescent years.”
Follow-up questions can include: What do you think of your coach and teammates? What does it feel like when you or your team wins, or loses? What would make you want to continue? How would quitting make things better?
Chastising your teen for wanting to leave a sport they once loved (and one you may have spent a lot of money on over the years) can be like scolding them for changing their mind about their favourite colour or forcing them to love peanut butter, says Terry Carson, a professional parenting coach in Toronto. “Why can’t we respect a child’s likes and dislikes? It’s about being a parent, not a dictator.”
Time for a Change
If the coach institutes moves that are too advanced for your teen’s age and skills, condones unsportsmanlike conduct or exhibits abusive behaviour, it may be time to switch things up. Bullying or peer pressure, common among girls, is another problem that needs to be addressed immediately.
Athletic prodigies who have been at the top of the heap can struggle when they move to another division or age group. “Superstars can become risk averse and start to feel bad about themselves,” notes Carson. “Parents have to examine if they are emphasizing winning or the love of the game.”
When Carson’s son played AA baseball, he found it too stressful but still enjoyed the game. He moved to a house league and now coaches. And soccer dads and moms take note: Children have the opportunity to learn more from sports when they are encouraged for their efforts rather than their performance. “Sports are a great metaphor for life, but it’s not all about winning,” Carson observes. “Marathon runners do it for personal gain. There’s only one winner among hundreds of participants.”
The Final Decision
Unless the situation is dangerous or emotionally damaging, both Carson and Dr. Odegaard recommend that your teen live up to his commitment and finish out the season; responsibility to a team is a valuable lesson. If he says he’s too busy, use it as an opportunity to teach time management.
But, ultimately, respecting your child’s decision to quit, even if you think it is wrong, helps him along the path from teen to in-dependent adult. “Our job as parents isn’t to say ‘I told you so’ but ‘What did you learn from this for the future?’” says Carson. “Give your teen permission to be more adult, and be there to help and guide him. You’ll end up raising strong individuals.”
Based on this advice, I revisited the issue with Fox. He said he didn’t want to miss water-polo practices or tournaments, which coincide with the start of baseball season. He’s passionate about water polo, never misses a practice and works hard—he had simply outgrown baseball, and I was the one who had to let it go.
Has your child asked to quit a sport? How did you handle it?