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Should I Let My Child Quit His or Her Sport during the Season?

Big Questions in youth sports, part 3

For many parents, there are pressing questions related to youth sports that they just can't find the right answers to. SportsEngine wants to help answer those questions. For the third article in our "Big Questions in Youth Sports" series, SportsEngine asked successful youth and high school coaches for their thoughts on a particularly hard conversation.

Safety should always be a top priority in youth sports, which means a player not finishing a season due to emotional, mental, or physical abuse is absolutely warranted. But abuse notwithstanding, are there acceptable reasons for a young athlete to be able to quit a sport during a season?  

Here are some of the answers from coaches: 

"I think we would like to teach our children to finish, to honor commitments. But as a parent, if my daughter doesn't really want to play something, and I'm forcing her to do it, I'm going to kind of set that battle up already ahead of time. So if it is important to me as a parent to teach that to my child, I think I need to have a little thinking ahead. If this is something he or she really wants to do, it's having those conversations like, 'Hey Suzy, we're going to sign up for basketball, but you're going to finish the season.' So being proactive, having those conversations and knowing ahead of time can hopefully already lay the foundation. Just saying, 'Hey, this is what's important to us because you got to finish it out, even if it becomes a little rough. And then, 'Remember we talked about that...'" 

Suzy Willemssen was the first female player to join the boys baseball program in her hometown of Waterloo, Iowa. A four-sport athlete in high school, she was an All-State player in softball, volleyball and basketball. She played softball at the University of Iowa, where she earned a Bachelors in Physical Education. The founder of the Glory travel softball organization in the D.C. Metro, she also has led Bishop O'Connell High in Arlington, Virginia, to three state softball titles and has countless other accomplishments. 

"No, sports are a great way to instill life lessons. A player gave his or her commitment to the team at the beginning of the season, and they should fulfill their commitment until the end of the season." 

Melissa Volk is in her 10th season as the Head Girls Hockey Coach at Andover High School in Minnesota. She has led the program to seven state tournament appearances, including state titles in 2020 and 2022. Volk played four seasons of hockey at St. Olaf College and was a captain and All-Conference player at Irondale High School in New Brighton, Minnesota.  

"No, you signed up for it, you've got to finish the season. Life's about finishing: Finish the rep, finish the work, finish the game and, unless there's some really extenuating circumstances, finishing the season. You made a commitment." 

In March 2021, Don Smolyn retired after 45 years as the Head Football Coach at Lenape Valley Regional High School in New Jersey. An active leader in his state with 348 victories at the time of his retirement, Smolyn led his program to seven state titles and 12 league championships, racking up many notable awards along the way, including the 2021 American Football Coaches Association Power of Influence Award, induction into the NJSIAA Sports Hall of Fame and the 2003 National High School Football Coach of the Year. 

"As you say, the only reason to quit is if there is abuse going on, or if they're experiencing emotional distress, and they are anxious when they're going to practice, or they're depressed or not motivated to go. Those are some other factors.  

But I think they can learn a lot from pushing through adversity, so I really have to get to the underlying factors on why they want to quit."  

A native of Miami, JaJa Richards marvels at all the places basketball has taken him. He played professionally for 14 years in countries such as Honduras, Israel, Beijing, Cuba, Brazil, France, Mexico, Ukraine and Turkey. After his playing career ended, he returned to Florida, where he created the All Stars Are Bright Corporation, a youth basketball program that focuses on encouraging student-athletes to achieve academic excellence and athletic success. He received the 2023 Double-Goal Coach® National Award from Positive Coaching Alliance.   

"If a parent or athlete experiences abuse, you report it first, then you remove your child from that coach's team and place them on another team, where the coaching staff is safe. 

If your child wants to quit during the season, listen to them first. Give them the floor to explain their feelings. Then the parent provides their reasoning. Their reasoning should include the answer, 'No, because quitting on teammates is not fair. Quitting on all your sacrifices, hard work, etc... is a no. Finishing what you started is the lesson at heart.' This lesson will follow the athlete through life. Working through things makes the individual stronger when in a safe and positive environment. If they quit, they will be quitting every time." 

Breasha Pruitt was a two-time U.S. Junior National Team member and a member of the the University of Georgia's gymnastics team that won third place at the 2003 NCAA Championship. The owner of Breasha Pruitt Elite Gymnastics in Evansville, Indiana, she earned the Positive Coaching Alliance's Coach of the Year award in 2022. 

"I don't believe in that. I think that's one of the issues and challenges we have in this modern day society. I've always believed if you start something, you finish something. When my son Lawrence was 6 or 7 years old, he saw his sister in a dance class, and he said he wanted to dance. After two sessions at the Y, he heard the ball bounce at the Y, and he didn't want to take dance anymore. I said, 'Nope, you're going to finish what you started.' At some point in life, you're not going to like something. But you got bills to pay, kids to feed."  

Larry McKenzie has led two North Minneapolis public high schools to a combined six state titles, including a record four straight. A member of Minnesota's Positive Coaches Alliance, Coach McKenzie is the first Black coach inducted into the Minnesota Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2014. In 2019, he was recognized by the NCAA with the prestigious, “Living Legend Award” and a "Guardian of the Game" by the National Basketball Coaches Association. 

"Never, never. Once the commitment is made, they have to understand that's a commitment they're making for the season. And that doesn't mean go hunting this weekend. You are a teammate, and so whether you're playing or not, you're a teammate and everybody supports you, and you should support them. Once you allow a child to quit on anything, that second time becomes that much easier. So I just have a real issue with that, and I'm glad we're talking about it." 

Steve Leisz is the Head Football Coach and Head Wrestling Coach at Episcopal High School in Bellaire, Texas, where he's led the program to four state titles and four runner-up finishes since 2005. An inductee in the Texas High School Hall of Fame, he started his coaching career as a part-time wrestling coach in the 1980s. In 2019, he was a Head Coach in the Army's All-American Bowl. 

"If the sport does not bring joy to the athlete, then I think you can have the discussion. There is something to be said for honoring a commitment as well. I think there can — and should — be an open discussion with the coach, parents and athlete about why the athlete wants to quit and see if there is a solution before quitting." 

Kyle Kelly has coached girls soccer both at the high school and club level in and around the Lake Tahoe region in California and Nevada. He led Truckee High School to three Nevada state high school titles, and he was named Nevada 3A Girls High School Coach of the Year in 2015. Coaching and serving in leadership roles at Truckee River United FC, he's also coached at Sierra Nevada College and Truckee Meadows Community College. 

"If they are not passionate about the sport, I think they should have a face-to-face conversation with their parents, and their coaches to help see how we can best meet their needs." 

Kurt Hines will head into his 26th season coaching high school football in the fall, and he's currently the Head Football Coach at Coronado High in California. He also has extensive experience coaching high school football in New Hampshire, winning a Coach of the Year award in 2012 when he was Head Coach of Bedford High.  

"No. In general, children should be encouraged to stick it out because children who tend to be quitters keep quitting when life just doesn’t go their way. I think kids need to be pushed to persevere through less than ideal circumstances. That’s when growth happens."  

Mohammed Gubara is the Boys Youth Director at Boreal FC in Ramsey, Minnesota, and he's also the Varsity Assistant Boys Coach at Robbinsdale Armstrong High School. A two-time All-Conference player, Mohammed was a NJCAA Region Champ at Anoka Ramsey Community College. He will be coaching Vlora FC, a Minneapolis-based women’s team that will compete in the UPSL. He's hoping to earn his U.S. Soccer C License by the summer. 

"Athletes should not quit his or her sport during the season, unless they really aren’t enjoying it anymore and it starts to affect the team. As a coach, I wouldn’t want to force someone to be at practices or games if they really didn’t want to be there."  

Chris Cheng played Varsity baseball and basketball at Lowell High in San Francisco. He's now the basketball and track and field coach at A.P. Giannini Middle School in San Francisco, and he was honored as a 2023 Double-Goal Coach® Regional winner by Positive Coaching Alliance. 

"I think about my son. He's seven year old right now, and he's playing baseball, and he's a big hockey guy. Let's say the values don't really match up, or the environment is toxic, then I would like think about having my son step away. But I want him to try to finish what he starts.  

I want him to try to finish what he starts but, then again, I'm going to be flexible. If my son is not having fun, or if it seems like it's a chore or he's just dreading going, then obviously I'm going to listen to my son and make sure I'm doing what's best for him, rather than trying to step on his toes and say, 'Hey, we gotta finish this season.' So just listening to my son and making sure I'm doing the best thing for him. And if that means leaving the program, then we'll leave the program."  

Matt Booth is the Director of Strength & Conditioning, Assistant track coach, and Dean of Athletics at Canterbury School in Ft. Myers, FL. A high jumper at Wheaton College, he's worked with athletes who have gone on to play in the NFL, NBA, MLB and MLS. He was a 2022 Regional Double-Goal Coach® winner by Positive Coaching Alliance.  

"That's a tough one. There are so many circumstances that surround that question, but assuming that there isn’t abuse, family emergencies, personal issues, I don’t think players should be allowed to quit during the season. 'Taking your ball and going home' should not be allowed." 

Adam Barta is a native of Lake Crystal, Minnesota, and he played baseball at Bethany Lutheran College and the College of St. Scholastica. The founder and a longtime coach with Blizzard Baseball Academy, Adam has helped develop many young athletes who have gone on to play in college and in the pros. An Associate Scout with the Chicago White Sox, Adam was inducted into the St. Scholastica baseball Hall of Fame in 2012. 

"No! There are tons of lessons to be learned by just putting your head down, doing your job and hanging in there. Life is not fair. Get used to it! You signed up, you finish. 

If their schedules are so demanding and overbooked to start with that there is no way to succeed, then that is a parent problem! They want them in orchestra, sports, DECA, yoga... when do they sleep and just watch TikTok? If it is unmanageable and the kid is so stressed, then YES, it’s ok (to quit)." 

Annie Adamczak-Glavan is one of the greatest athletes in Minnesota history, emerging from the tiny community of Moose Lake. In her senior year, she was an All-State player in volleyball, basketball and softball, with the teams combining for a record of 79-0 and winning state titles in each sport. An All-American at the University of Nebraska in volleyball, she founded Club 43 in Hopkins, and she's coached at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School, Edina High School and St. Louis Park High School. 

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