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When They Want to Quit

By Tim Jahn, M.ED

The signs of spring are everywhere. Not the crocuses and daffodils – they’ve been up since March – but kids in uniforms on soccer fields and baseball diamonds. Thousands of youths will be playing some kind of team sport in the spring, and the benefits include exercise, friendship and real life lessons in teamwork, handling competition, and dealing with disappointment. But many teens drop out of youth sports in middle school and high school, often to the dismay of their parents who will miss being a coach, team parent or fan, and the camaraderie of other families.

The National Alliance for Youth Sports estimates that 75% of youths will drop out of sports programs by age 13. Other non-athletic youth programs, like Scouts and 4-H, report similar statistics. According to a University of Maryland study, the attrition rate is 35 percent each year. So why do kids drop out of organized youth activities and sports as they approach the teen years? Most kids will tell you, “It’s just not fun anymore,” which may mean they’re burned out from the stress of performing and competing, or they’ve had some bad experiences with coaches and teammates.

But often the desire to quit a sport they’ve played since age five has more to do with being a teenager than anything else. Here are some developmental reasons why teens drop out of youth sports:

  • Teens are extremely self-conscious and may be keenly aware that they no longer measure up to their more athletic peers.
  • The teen’s primary friendship group may exist outside the organized youth program, either in another formal program or informally.
  • During adolescence, there are many more leisure choices to pursue. Teens will want to try new things, and may also narrow their interests to those things that are more meaningful and satisfying to them.
  • When parents are very involved with an activity as a coach or leader, some teens will want to move in another direction to create some separation and establish independence.
  • Finally, teens express their growing autonomy by making their own choices, including the choice to stop playing soccer or baseball, when they can.

What’s a parent to do?

A parent whose young teen does not rejoin a sports team after years of involvement can feel confusion, disappointment, or even rejection. Here are some ways to ease the pain and help you and your teenager accept his or her choices:

  • Don’t take it personally. It may hurt that you will no longer sit in the stands and cheer/chitchat with other parents, but that’s not why your teen wants to quit.
  • Ask him how he thinks he will use his time now that he doesn’t have practice or games each week.
  • If she indentifies some other interest, be encouraging and supportive.
  • Let him know that he can always change his mind and rejoin sports teams and other youth programs if he wants.
  • Move on. Realize that your teenager is separating from childhood and from the family as part of the growing up process. She’s moving on, so should you.

Tim Jahn is a Human Ecology Specialist and Parent Educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. He coached youth baseball for more than ten years, including a final year when his son quit before the season began.

Tim Jahn is a Human Ecology Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program and leads workshops for parents of pre-teens and teens. He can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 331 or at tcj2@cornell.edu.

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