When Your Kid Wants to Quit — and You’re the Coach

Most parents volunteer to coach for the benefit of their own kid. But what happens when that kid is over it?

Catherine Pearlman, PhD, LCSW

| 3 min read

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These days, children can start sports and extracurricular activities as young as age 2 or 3. Mostly, parents decide the sport or hobby. It’s often one the parent enjoyed as a child — and why not? If I loved piano lessons, I naturally assume my daughter will also like piano. My husband loved playing basketball, so he encouraged our son to play.

It’s an asset to have a parent who knows and loves the sport — and many parents go on to volunteer as a coach. It can mean more quality time together. It can mean sharing a love of the game. It all works out great.

Until it doesn’t.  

It’s one thing when a child says, “Mom, Dad, I want to quit.” And it’s another when you’re also the coach.

As the coach, your first instinct might be to make your child to stick out the season. There are the other players to consider. How will losing a player affect the team? How does it affect you, as the coach? Do you keep coaching even if your child isn’t on the team?

But as the parent, there are totally different questions to raise. It’s important to get to the bottom of why the child wants to move on.

Here are four questions to ask when your child wants to quit.

Have I been listening?

When a child wants to quit, parent-coaches may feel inclined to offer speeches with the best of intentions. Maybe a rousing pep talk is all they need! But when parents talk instead of listen, they miss the opportunity to fine tune their intervention. 

Ask open-ended questions to learn why your child wants to quit so you can address those concerns thoughtfully. It may help to listen but wait a day or two to respond. This way your emotions won’t impact the discussion.

Am I focusing on fun?

If playing isn’t fun, why do it? Make sure, as the coach, you are not overly concerned with winning. Many, many children are turned off of a sport by parents who are too invested in the outcomes of the game. They feel even more pressure when the parent is the coach. 

Would another coach make a difference?

It may be hard to accept, but sometimes your child may do better with someone else. A parent-coach might feel hurt or shunned — but you shouldn’t. The relationship might improve when the complexities of coaching are removed.

Does quitting open other doors?

When a child is spending hours a week playing soccer — or basketball, or softball, or water polo — he or she may not have time for robotics or dance or even just time to play with friends. Are they missing out on a true passion because quitting a previously-loved activity is so frowned upon?

If your child is developing and changing, consider that quitting may actually give the child space to explore other interests. Winners do sometimes quit — when it’s for the right reasons.

Related articles

The Joy and Pain of Coaching Your Own Kid

What to Say on the Car Ride Home

5 Types of Parents Who Are Killing Youth Sports

Catherine Pearlman, PhD, LCSW, is a therapist, avid youth sports parent and founder of The Family Coach.

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