Ask a Pediatrician: My Kid Wants to Quit Soccer—Should I Let Him?

Sports can teach kids valuable lessons but that doesn't always mean they're the right fit for your child

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My kid hates soccer class. It's a whole ordeal getting him to go every Saturday and when we finally do get there, he mostly just sits around and complains. This is not how I want to spend my weekend! Is it OK to let him quit or is that just teaching him that it's fine to give up when the going gets tough?Alex, New Jersey

A child participating in an extracurricular activity may seem straightforward, but it’s often much more complex than that. Sports can be formative experiences in childhood, and in some cases, persevering through difficulty is a great developmental opportunity. In other cases, the negative feelings caused by engaging in an undesirable activity may not be worth the potential lessons learned. So what should you do? Let’s dive in and examine some of the details you should consider when making this decision with your child.

A Symptom of Something More Serious?

First, it’s prudent to check if your child’s ‘hate’ of soccer, or any other activity they are trying to quit, is potentially a sign of emotional distress, another stressor, or the uncovering of a deeper mental health concern. For example, losing interest in things that we previously loved is a common symptom of anxiety and depression. Pay close attention to your child and note if they exhibiting some of the following:

  • Sadness, tearfulness
  • Irritability, frustration, or anger
  • Changes in sleep and appetite
  • Tiredness and lack of energy
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

If you are noticing any of these symptoms, it might be time to talk to your child’s pediatrician or a mental health professional about depression or anxiety.

Habitual Quitting?

Think back to your child’s track record with hobbies and activities —and have they quit other commitments in the past? Do they seem to be making a habit of giving up when things get tough? There is nothing wrong with getting out of something that is genuinely a bad fit—this is how our children learn what they do and don’t enjoy. But there is also value in persevering through difficulty and giving an activity a fair shot before giving up.

There is no good way to definitively measure this aspect of the quitting decision; you know your child best. Ask them about their reasoning behind wanting to quit. Having an honest and open conversation about their intentions may give you more insight into their experiences and why they seem to be negative. It may also give you an opportunity to discuss the importance of resilience and self-awareness.

Does the Busy Bee Need a Break?

In an attempt to help children lead exciting and enriching lives, some parents may over-pack their daily schedules with all sorts of activities and commitments. And while this may provide kids with a wide variety of experiences, it may also feel overwhelming and potentially harmful.

If your child suddenly asks to quit an activity they used to enjoy, examine the other things they are doing throughout the day. Do they get ample opportunities to rest and recharge? Are they constantly going from place to place? Do they have a good balance of physical movement, intellectual stimulation, and free time?

If soccer is the child’s only commitment, and they don’t have a compelling reason for wanting to quit, it might be a good idea to encourage them to keep trying, or at least finish out the season before making a decision as to whether to continue the following year. If it is one of many different activities they are involved in, it might be time to let go and replace that time slot with a less structured pastime.

Consider the Practical

Another consideration before deciding to quit is the amount of resources already invested in the activity. How far into the season is it? Has your child already devoted a lot of time to it? Have you made significant financial contributions, purchased equipment, etc.?

While dollars and hours spent do not necessarily determine your decision, it’s important to draw your child’s attention to these matters to help them understand the full picture and learn about the consequences of their choices. Then, you can work together to arrive at the fairest and most logical option.

Conversation Is Key

Bottom line: You know your child best. Some kids need adults to help them retain structure and discipline, others feel stifled by excessive management. All kids benefit from a safe space in which they can express themselves and voice their needs. So, if your child comes to you asking to quit a beloved activity, start by having a conversation and asking questions to understand where they’re coming from. Share your perspective and involve your child in making the decision that is right for everyone involved.

Dr. Christina Johns is a pediatrician + Senior Medical Advisor at PM Pediatric Care, the largest pediatric urgent care group in the U.S. 

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Dr. Christina Johns is a pediatrician + Senior Medical Advisor at PM Pediatric Care, the largest pediatric urgent care group in the U.S. She received her undergraduate degree at...