In Burn Out, Motivation/Goals, Problems in Youth Sports

Ever notice how quitting is vilified as the worst thing you can possibly do, as the mark of failure and shame, a sign of weakness, and as the last possible option in nearly ANY situation, but especially in sports?

While perseverance and stick-to-itiveness are celebrated as the building blocks paving the gritty path to achievement in those athletes who ultimately reach recognition and glory, you almost never hear about the ones who persevered through tough situations and ended up WORSE OFF in some way, physically hurt, or emotionally damaged. Those stories get swept under the rug as rare and unfortunate scenarios that should not impact the myth that quitting is NEVER the right thing to do.

The reality is that deciding whether to leave your sport is never a black and white issue. In some situations it is worthwhile to push yourself through fear or exhaustion, to remain determined in the face of obstacles, and to endure those difficult moments with the knowledge that they will make you a better, stronger, and smarter athlete in the long run. In other cases, it is foolish NOT to quit. There are definitely times when leaving is the right choice for the right reasons.

Here are 3 situations in which I recommend that you keep going, and not quit:

    1. You had a number of bad games/practices/runs/etc.

It happens! There is no doubt that you are going to have some losses, get cut, occasionally make big mistakes, or stumble in some way. This might even happen A LOT before you really find your flow and get better (at which point it’s still bound to happen sometimes and the sooner you accept that the better off you’ll be), but that sort of hardship and adversity is just part of the process of competitive sports and is what makes victory all the sweeter. The important thing is to stay positive and avoid thinking that you’re “never” going to be any good because those sorts of negative thoughts will only distract you and hurt your REAL potential. If you get deflated after a failure or loss remember to LEARN SOMETHING from it, and look forward to your next chance to try again and improve. You can even use some mental toughness techniques to stay positive in the moment when you know you are losing. Either way, this is not enough of a good reason to quit.

    1. Problems with your coach.

The job of a good coach is not to make it easy for you, to coddle you, let you skip practice, and goof off. A good coach will motivate you to exceed your limits, be a team player, have a good attitude, and above all WORK HARD. Sometimes this results in a “tough love” relationship and you’re not always going to like what he/she has to say. I’m pretty sure that deep down you know that when a good coach gives you a hard time about your performance or behavior, that they have your best interest at heart. If you’re having a hard time dealing with being mentally or physically stretched, then understand this: This is HELPING, not hurting you, and it’s never a reason to quit. If, on the other hand, you have a coach who is aggressive, demeaning, abusive, or otherwise acting inappropriately,that’s a different story and I’ll talk more about that below.

    1. Problems with your teammates.

Your teammates have a huge impact on the enjoyment level of your sport when you get along. Ideally, they provide a good balance of mutual motivation, camaraderie, and support when you need help or are feeling down. But if you’re dealing with negative teammates, bullying, or exclusion, this can add another challenge to your overall performance. Approach it as such: a challenge, anther obstacle to learn from and overcome. Not a reason to quit. Do your best to communicate with your teammates, not engage in the negativity, and then speak to your coach to see if they can help address the situation with finesse, but through it all, stay focused on yourself and your sport. Keep working hard and doing your best. Those teammates who aren’t serious will probably leave the sport or get what’s coming to them in one way or another so be patient, you’ll get through it. If this goes beyond snide comments and minor altercations that you can manage yourself, definitely speak to the coach and get their help!

Ok, now that we’ve covered the reasons not to quit, let’s talk about the situations in which it might actually be the right, courageous thing to do.

Here are 3 situations in which quitting is totally OK.

    1. Your heart is just not into it anymore.

Talent and perseverance will only get you so far without genuine PASSION. If you’re in the game but “the lights aren’t on upstairs,” meaning that you’re not really interested in the process or the outcome, are distracted with thoughts about other things in your life, are no longer having fun and basically can’t wait for it to be over, then maybe this just isn’t the sport for you, and that’s ok. Don’t stay in it because of pressure from other people, or because you want a reason to do what your friends are doing. Life is too short for that! If you don’t LOVE the sport or don’t CRAVE to do your best at that particular endeavor, then find something else that you will feel that way about. Maybe it’s another sport! Lots of athletes start out in one sport and then later, find more enjoyment in another.

    1. You have an emotionally and/or physically abusive coach.

We touched upon this above, but let’s address a situation where a bad coach could be an excellent reason for leaving. If your coach uses excessive punishment, humiliation, ostracizes you for no good reason, encourages bad behavior on the team, yells and gets angry in disrespectful ways or employs any other form of abusive behavior, then you must remove yourself from that situation. Stopping abusive behavior directed at you or teammates is a sign of strength. Try to communicate with him/her, get others involved, and do what you can, but if the situation doesn’t improve then it’s time to leave. Keep in mind that while this coach may be abusive, there are still good coaches out their in your sport.

    1. You have an injury that greatly affects your ability to play.

Injuries will happen on occasion, and when they do it’s important to get treatment and take the appropriate amount of time to rest and re-enter your sport slowly. But sometimes that’s just not possible, and the risks of re-injury or otherwise damaging your body in a more permanent way are just too great. No sport should leave you broken physically and this is a fine reason to leave the sport behind and follow another dream. As with both situations above, it could be a matter of trying another sport that has a lower risk of re-injury to that particular part of the body, or doing something else that allows you to stay involved without actually playing. Coaching, writing, managing, teaching, promoting, the list of possibilities in the sports world is endless. As with any obstacle, there is always a new opportunity, so while an injury may be a reason to quit playing the game, it doesn’t mean you have to abandon your love of the game altogether.

Of course there are situations I didn’t address here. Maybe you’re thinking about quitting so you can focus more on your schoolwork, maybe your sport is imposing a financial burden you or your family can no longer support, maybe you need to be more present with other equally important priorities in your life. These are very personal reasons and there is no right or wrong answer here. My advice in these complex scenarios is to do everything you can to make it work, speak to the most supportive people in your life and get their take on it, and then not only make the right decision for yourself, but be CONFIDENT about it afterwards. If you choose to quit, then do it with pride knowing it was for the right reasons.

What has been your experience with quitting or not quitting?


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