Fall Sports Series: Knowing When To Quit

Now that the school year has gotten into the swing of things, the season has come for little league soccer games, football under the friday night lights, and every other sport you can imagine. While these days spent on the court or in the field bring joy, tough moments and conversations arise too. To shed some light on parenting athletes, we asked blogger and dad Aaron Conrad to share his approach in a four-part series over the next month.

A few months ago, we faced one of the most difficult conversations we have had thus far with our 10-year-old daughter. Some may read this and think it seems a bit silly, but others will understand our struggle. The moment she was able to pick a sport to play, she chose gymnastics. At first, it was fun. Minimal time. Minimal cost. Tumbling and dancing around. Fun.

Girl with Gymnastics MedalsThen she kept moving through the various levels. Each new level brought more time, more money and a stronger commitment to the sport. This past summer, she spent her mornings in swim team practice and was quickly rushed to the gym for four hours of hard work. Before we knew it, her summer was gone. No sleepovers. No play dates with friends. Just hours in the gym working on her first love in the sporting arena: gymnastics. Over the years, we saw her continue to bounce back from injuries that would either end or completely crush her competition seasons. She never complained; she just kept on working hard.

We knew the day would come when we would have to say that it was time for this sport to end. The list of reasons to call it “over” far outweighed the list of reasons to continue. When we sat down a few months ago, we knew her runway had one more year at the most. We were coming into summer and a window of time to make the decision. So we all sat down one night and had a very difficult talk. There were tears. There was mourning. It’s tough to tell your daughter that it’s time to “call it quits” on something she loves.

While these kinds of conversations are tough, they’re likely to abound. That said, it’s important to navigate them well. Here’s a four step process that can help you and your child turn something seemingly negative into something positive:

    1. Give your child options – We knew that there would be a void for our daughter once gymnastics was removed. It’s all she has really ever known. It is where she finds community. By giving her some options of things she could try after gymnastics, the wound of leaving a sport she had worked so hard for began to heal.
    2. Have them make a list of ideas for the next chapter – One of the things that we did with our daughter was recommend that she make a list. I gave her a few ideas of other sports that she could try, but didn’t want her list to be my list. I recommended that she be as creative as she wanted to. This allowed her to take ownership in the decision process. I also promised we would follow up on anything she put on the list.
    3. Follow up and execute on those ideas – Once my daughter’s list was complete, my wife began to research all of the various clubs, leagues, and opportunities for each sport and activity. Thankfully many of the things that she wrote down were seasonal, so this allowed her to try multiple things – from swimming and diving to running club.
    4. Encourage Always – As we closed our conversation, I made sure I let our daughter know how proud I was of her. Her accomplishments and dedication to gymnastics will only help her in her future endeavors – whether sport related or not. I wanted her to know that it was okay to be sad about leaving one sport, but quickly show all of the possibilities that were yet to be tried.

    Sometimes being a parent is really hard. In the big picture, sports careers and choices are nothing to the much larger choices and discussions that lie ahead. Our daughter is testing and trying new sports to replace gymnastics. She may not be the best at any or all of them, but she is willing to try. What I celebrate most is that we began to establish a rhythm this summer. She accepted our counsel and dedicated herself to moving forward. Harder conversations may come later on down the road, but she knows we’ll handle those decisions the same loving way that we’ve handled the ones we’ve encountered thus far.

    Aaron and Heather Conrad

    Aaron Conrad is a husband, father, follower of Christ, Tar Heel fan, random tweeter and believer that Love Does!

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This hit home to me because all three of my young kids do gymnastics. This is their first year on the team but already I know what you mean about summer and more time and money as you go. I can see the schedule for the older kids. I think my problem will be that if they get tired of it, I will want them to continue because it isn't really a sport you can just go back to anytime. A decision to quit competitively at 10 or even a year or two younger is likely a quit forever. It's a big decision for someone so young! Any tips for letting go as a parent?


I have a similar issue.  I've coached my two kids to athletic success at a local level and regionally they can hold their own but they are not going to beat the genetic freaks and super talented who you will typically find one of per 5million of population.  You are always facing diminishing returns with sports and the work and commitment is much harder as you move from local to regional to national to international.

Frankly, who even remembers who got the silver medal let alone came 4th or 11th at the Olympic Games?  They are as anonymous as anyone else.

This coming March they will compete in the local junior schools championships at Cross Country then I am switching them to sprinting and hurdling disciplines which is a totally different type of athletics.  When they have taken that as far as they can I might switch them to rounders (an ancient form of baseball), basketball or something else they enjoy, master that to local or regional level and move on.

I was a good runner at school and local and even regional level, but the most fun I ever had was winning events at school where people knew me.  When I won the county championships it mean far less to me, and is not even a memory, because my school friends and teachers were not there.  My best ever sporting memory was beating my PE teacher over 4 miles XC by a big enough margin that I had time to change my clothes and embarass him as he finished.

Maria Mcnamee-Hirt
Maria Mcnamee-Hirt

I liked the four step process they go through and that the kid makes the list and they follow through with her.