This last Games cycle has taught many athletes and coaches the importance of prioritizing mental health as much as we prioritize physical health in sport. And for some athletes, that may mean sitting out major competitions—as gymnast Simone Biles elected to do in the Tokyo 2020 Games—and it could even mean quitting a team altogether. Here, TrueSport Expert Nadia Kyba, a social worker and expert in conflict resolution, helps parents understand when it's important to say yes to your athlete quitting the team, and what questions you should be asking to best support them.
Make sure there's no danger
It's important to approach the topic of your child wanting to quit a team with caution. Before we touch on the nuances of quitting due to goal misalignment or personal dissatisfaction, as a parent, it's critical that you ascertain that your child's desire to quit isn't rooted in abuse from a coach or other adult, or bullying from teammates. Start by making sure that there are no signs of abuse or bullying, says Kyba.
Your child should know that they can talk to you about anything, and that you have their best interests and safety at top of mind—not their national ranking or scholarship potential. If there is an issue of abuse or bullying, that's when your child needs you to step in and protect them by seeking the appropriate help.
Understand your position and interest—and your child's
Assuming that abuse or bullying isn't the problem, the next step is to pause and reflect on why your child wants to quit, as well as your personal reasons for wanting them to stay on the team. "Your position is a set solution to a problem and your interests are your needs and what is important to you," Kyba explains. "But your position and interests may differ from that of your child and it's critical that you understand your motivations as well as theirs as you discuss the next steps."
For example, your interest might be in your child getting an athletic scholarship, which means your position is likely to be 'toughing it out' and staying with the team. However, your child's interest may be that he wants to spend more time with friends, and his position is that quitting the team allows him to do that. Neither position or interest is bad or wrong, but if you don't try to see things from your child's point of view, communication will be much harder.