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How Athletes Know When It’s Time to Take a Step Back

As an athlete, you may have grown up with a ‘win at all costs’ mentality, and the idea of quitting anything was frowned upon. Or maybe you feel like leaving a sport will disappoint a parent or coach. If you’re debating your future in a sport or on a team, you’re not alone. Here, Nadia Kyba, MSW, TrueSport Expert and President of Now What Facilitation, is sharing some common signs that it might be time to quit or take a step back from sport.

If your love for the game is gone

“When you realize that you don’t want to go to practice and you’re no longer excited to compete, those are two key signs,” says Kyba. To be clear, everyone has days where practice feels annoying or a competition seems unpleasant. Don’t quit the first time you don’t feel like heading to practice after school. Ask yourself if this is just because of something that’s happening this week—like a disagreement with a teammate—or if this is a feeling that has been there for a while. If that feeling has persisted for a while and every practice or competition feels like a grind, that’s a sign that you may need a break.

“Be kind and really listen to yourself,” says Kyba. And don’t forget: You can usually tell a coach you need to take a week or two off before fully quitting the team. Sometimes, a week or two off will actually re-energize you and bring back your motivation.

It’s also worth investigating if the feeling of not wanting to play continues through practice/games, or if it just happens as you’re heading to practice or getting warmed up. If you end practices and games feeling good, you may not want to quit the sport, but you might need to investigate other areas of your life. Maybe you’re overwhelmed with the combination of schoolwork, other extracurriculars, and your sport. Or maybe there’s something else happening in another area of your life that you need to address.

If you’re there to please someone else

This is a trap many young athletes fall into, particularly ones who’ve been in sports since a young age and have shown ’natural talent.’ “Staying in a sport just to please your parents or your coaches is not a good reason to do something,” says Kyba. “Young athletes really struggle with not wanting to hurt someone or not wanting to let someone down. Maybe you’re staying in a sport because one of your parents loves it and is excited that you’re in it, or you’re in the sport because you don’t know how to tell your coach that you want to leave. But it’s not healthy to continue in a sport that you’re only in for other people.”

If you feel stuck in your identity as an athlete

“When you’ve been an athlete for a long time, that can become how you self-identify, even if it doesn’t make you happy,” says Kyba. If you’ve grown up being ‘a runner’ or ‘a basketball player,’ it can feel scary to release that identity, even if it no longer fits. But it’s okay to let things go. “Picture the next few years,” suggests Kyba. “Imagine sticking with a sport you hate, staying in it all through high school, and heading into college. Then, picture what you could do if you quit. It’s so important to understand that sticking with something you don’t like is also keeping you away from things you potentially may enjoy more.”

If you feel like you’re always anxious

For young athletes, letting go of a sport can be an easy way to relieve anxiety brought on from being overwhelmed and over-scheduled—and it might not be forever, it might just be for a semester. “If you feel like you’re always anxious because you just have too much going on, you may need a break,” says Kyba. “It’s a life skill to know when you need to let things go, and to say that you value your mental health.”

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Athlete Health Parent TrueSport