In April, your 10-year-old was eager to start Little League. Now it’s June or July, and he drags his feet whenever it’s time to grab his glove. “I don’t want to play baseball anymore,” he says.
You want to him to learn to love being physically active, though. You want to make sure he’s getting 60 minutes of activity a day.
So is it OK to let him just quit? What’s a “good enough” reason to quit a sport?
How do you help him manage his emotions so he can stay motivated to be active?
The answer is to look back at why he wanted to play in the first place, says George Scarlett, PhD. He is deputy chair of the Eliot-Pearson Department of Education at Tufts University and author of The Baseball Starter: A Handbook for Coaching Children and Teens.
When asked, most children say they're motivated and want to play sports because they want to:
- Have fun
- Improve their skills
- Feel the excitement of competition
Notice anything that’s missing from that list? That’s right -- winning. Young children don’t decide to play baseball, or soccer, or tennis, or any other sport because they want to win. They do it mostly because they want to have fun. They want to play.
Tips to Get Your Kid in the Game
“At 7, 8, and 9, many children are ready to fall in love with a sport,” says Scarlett. “But to do that, they need to be surrounded with support, not just coached during games.”
To support their love of being active and help motivate them to move:
- Help them play backyard sports
- Encourage them to read about sports heroes
- Talk with them about sports history
- Let them play with trading cards or other memorabilia with friends
Most of all, Scarlett says, make sure your child gets to play with their friends. All too often, he says, coaches are so focused on building competitive teams -- even among 8-, 9-, and 10-year-olds -- that they “draft” rosters of top players. That leaves less talented kids on the bench.
Kids need to participate and have fun with friends, not sit on the bench of a team made up of ringers who they don’t know, he says.
Ask Questions and Observe
So, with that in mind, when your son wants to quit baseball or your daughter wants to drop lacrosse, first ask why.
If she feels over-committed and stressed because it's one of many activities she’s involved in, that could be a good reason to drop it. But if they say any of the following:
- “I hate it!”
- “I’m no good at it!”
- “It’s no fun anymore.”
- “The coach is mean.”
- “The other kids don’t like me.”
… you may have uncovered a problem with the way the sport is being handled. Go to a game or a practice and observe. How intense is the pressure to succeed? How harsh is the coach? Do the kids seem like they’re having fun? Does everyone get to play?
If the focus isn’t on fun, then the solution might not be quitting the sport, but quitting this team. Look for a team and coach that:
- Use positive motivation rather than criticism and yelling
- Let everyone get a chance to play
- Let kids play with their friends, not with a recruited roster of junior all-stars
- Take whatever time is necessary to explain and work with kids on new skills
- Don’t push kids to the point of risking injury
And if your child still wants to quit? So be it. If you force a child to play a sport when they don’t want to, that won’t make anyone happy. The goal at this age is to help foster a life-long love of exercise, not turn them off to it.
But what about commitment to the team? Scarlett says that shouldn’t be a factor for younger kids. “Usually the child doesn't know what he or she is getting into,” he says. “Commitments are for high school and up, not for children.”