Does Quitting a Sport Make us Quitters?

I recently read a post called “Try”ing Times on the blog Drama for Mama, at this link:

It addresses the issue of kids in sports—when to push, when not to push, when to let them choose, when not to let them choose, and when it’s okay, if ever, to let them quit. Apparently I’m not the only reader. This post has generated 32 comments and counting! It seems us moms have a lot to say on this subject, and we’re not shy about sharing.

The author relates the story of her 5 year-old daughter who wants to quit gymnastics. She’s not having fun, the stretching hurts, and it’s the end of the session. It’s not so much that she wants to quit, she simply doesn’t want to re-register. Makes sense to me. Meanwhile, the mother of another child in the same gym class extorts the virtues of continuing on. Her daughter, also 5, is “…doing it (gymnastics) whether she wants to or not.” Really? Yes, really! She continues, “She needs to learn now that things can be hard in life and quitting is not always an option.” A tad harsh for a 5 year-old, n’est pas? So here’s my question: Does quitting a sport in childhood make us quitters later in life?

Let me begin by being perfectly clear: I like sport. I am pro competitive sport. I was a competitive figure skater from the age of 7 until my late teens, when a knee injury derailed what I was sure would be a long and auspicious career on the ice. I believe in encouraging children to fulfill their potential to the utmost, no matter what the endeavour. However, I do not believe in forcing anyone of any age to do anything that is making them patently unhappy. Life is simply too short, even at 5.

As the mother of a twelve year old girl I have encountered this situation myself. My Little Miss was also a gymnast in her earlier years, and with a petite build, above average flexibility and no fear, she was quickly ear-marked for the competitive program. By grade 1 she was at the gym six hours a week. By grade three, at 8 years-old, her coaches wanted her nine hours a week. But she also liked to figure skate, sing, dance and play the piano. She couldn’t do it all and still be in bed by 8:00 every night, so we had to make a choice. Her opinion, which was that nine hours a week was too much given her other interests, played a large role in our decision. In the end, we moved her to a recreational gymnastics class and allowed her to pursue varied other activities.

Eventually, her musical and performing pursuits won her heart, and gymnastics fell by the way-side. Did we, by allowing her to reduce and then eliminate (read: QUIT!) gymnastics, teach her that quitting is okay? Or, alternatively, did we empower her to make a well-reasoned choice and accept the natural consequences, a lesson I believe to be of equal value to the “life is hard” approach of the mother above? I sympathize with moms everywhere. We all want to encourage our children to be their best, but at what cost? I have no doubt that this mother is completely, whole-heartedly well-intentioned, but along with communicating to her child that quitting is unacceptable, is she not also saying, “I don’t care what you want. I care more about what you do than who you are”?

Over the years, my Little Miss has consistently participated in certain activities, whiles others we have allowed to ebb and flow. She took guitar lessons for two years, and then stopped for a year or more because she needed to eliminate something from her schedule and she chose guitar. She continued to play and practice during her sabbatical from lessons and blossomed into a very good guitar player. Recently, she has returned to lessons to enhance her proficiency. Ballet was the same. She took ballet lessons, took some time off, and took up lessons again last fall because she wanted to. She is never going to be a prima ballerina, but she doesn’t want to be. She likes to dance, loves to perform, and believes that recreational ballet fits the bill perfectly. Had we forced her to stay in these activities against her will would she still be enjoying them now? I wonder…

My Little Miss is as committed to her activities and academics as any child I know. She maintains excellent grades, takes piano, guitar, ballet and singing lessons, and participates in an advanced musical theatre class for 13—18 year olds, the theatrical equivalent of gold or metro level soccer. Her admission to the program was based on an audition assessing both her ability and her attitude—no quitters need apply. She was 10 when she was first accepted. She takes tennis lessons for fun and recreation, plays soccer with friends at school and was a long-time student at 4 Cats Arts Academy. She is well-rounded, physically fit and happy, and her talents have been allowed to emerge organically. All of this, and she has “quit,” according to the definition of the Life-is-Hard-Lady, three times: Gymnastics, guitar and ballet.

In my opinion, encouraging hard work, focus, and the pursuit of her dreams, not ours, has made the difference. From my vantage point, I see her life as I see mine, a marathon, not a sprint. I believe that too much focus on the finish line too early doesn’t really serve her journey along the way. My experience as a parent has shown that quitting, per se, does NOT a quitter-make. Perhaps a better question to explore would be, “What happens to a child who never has a choice in the first place?”

2 Comments to “Does Quitting a Sport Make us Quitters?”

  1. I loved this. I loved your perspective and your thoughts. And you’ve made me feel so much better about letting my daughter make some decisions and having a voice. I have realized through all of the comments that I received on my post as well as reading your words the following: Better to have a well rounded child who is happy than a child who excels at one who is unhappy. I really don’t care if my child goes to the Olympics or plays a sport at a Division 1 school… I just want them to feel empowered, self sufficient and happy.

    Thank you for making this so much clearer for me.

    • I’m glad to hear that I may have helped a little. It’s only my personal experience, and every child is different, but you can never go wrong with happiness! I’ll keep reading Drama for Mama. Thanks for the feedback.

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