The old saying goes, “Quitters never win and winners never quit,” and parents may feel this is especially true for their teen. They may be upset if their teen decides they no longer want to play a sport or participate in an activity – especially if it is something they previously enjoyed and/or excelled at. Parents may also worry about how quitting makes a teen appear on their college applications.
Should parents support their teen’s desire to quit a sport or other activity?
Finding True Passion
Freshman year is a good time for teens to experiment and try a wide variety of sports and clubs offered at their high school and throughout their community.
By sophomore year they should be able to settle on a few activities they truly enjoy. Lisa Sohmer, Director of College Counseling at the Garden School, says, “Teens should choose activities they want to do, not activities they think they have to do just to look good to colleges... They should find something they like and are happy to do so that they stick with it.”
Being truly involved in an activity can take a good deal of time (for example, many sports teams practice 5-6 days a week). Teens may have to streamline the number of activities they participate in, especially if they want to take on a leadership role.
“Sometimes you try something and it doesn’t work out and so you try something else,” says Sohmer, “Kids are going to change their minds. What is important is that teens do something beyond their academics. They don’t have to be the best at it, they just have to enjoy it.”
Sohmer says, “The activities a teen participates in should help them find themselves and define who they are outside of the classroom.” It may take a couple of hits and misses for teen to find activities they are passionate about and that is perfectly fine. The important thing is that they not give up and do nothing.
That said, don’t have a narrow definition of “activity.” VanDeVelde explains, “Hobbies and intellectual interests are activities. If a teen loves to babysit his or her siblings, is a gourmet cook or spends a great deal of time reading books on a topic they are passionate about, these are activities.”
Remember that teens are still growing and developing. Their passions and skill levels may change greatly over their high school years. Sometimes they need to quit one activity to pursue another – and it may be one that they have done for years. Christine K. VanDeVelde, journalist and coauthor of the book College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step, says, “Sometimes teens can benefit from taking a break from an activity they have been deeply involved in and may come back to it fresh and invigorated. Or they may use their time off to find something else that really captures their interest.”
Rick Wolff, writer, sports psychologist and host of The Sports Edge on WFAN, says, “If kids have been playing a sport for a few years, presumably they have enjoyed it. When they come and tell you now that they want to quit the team, this is when you do need to have a heart-to-heart with your son or daughter. Try gently to pinpoint what is the reason for them wanting to leave. You're not trying to punish them, but you do need to educate them that quitting a team is not to be done on a whim - that he/she has obligations to one's teammates and coach.”
My own daughter played competitive soccer from elementary school through the fall of her sophomore year of high school. Junior year, after much consideration, she decided she would “quit” soccer and join the cross-country running team. She felt bad leaving a sport she had participated in for so long, but the change proved to be a good one – she was happier and more successful.
Is Quitting a Pattern?
VanDeVelde says, “Colleges are looking for a pattern. If your teen establishes a pattern of joining activities and quitting, this is a problem. But, you also never force a teen to do something that they do not have a heartfelt interest in.”
Wolff says, “There are many reasons why a child may want to quit. Usually they'll start by simply saying they're not having fun. But give them a chance to talk some more, and more times than not, they will come up with a more specific reason, e.g. another teammate teased me, the coach makes me play a position I don't want to play, etc. Many times, the reason for quitting can be addressed and, once resolved, the youngster will not quit.”
Some reasons for quitting an activity are more valid than others. Explains VanDeVelde, “Sour grapes or blaming someone else are never good excuses for quitting. Neither is ‘senioritis’. Don’t quit activities because you are done with college applications – it looks bad.”
How to Quit Correctly
It is important to quit an activity in the right way. Don’t drop out of the drama club in a huff because the part assigned isn’t big enough or quit the basketball team the night before a big game.
Says Wolff, “You don't want to punish your child and force them to stay on the team if they are really miserable -- that's counter productive for all concerned. But if you can, try and convince your child to last the entire season. Educate them on why they don't want to be labeled as a quitter, or as being seen as non-dependable as a team player. That's an important life lesson you want to get across.”