Today’s Topic: When Your Athlete Wants to Quit
Hi everybody. This is Coach Rebecca here for our weekly Facebook live Q&A session. And if you’re just coming to join us for the first time, I’ll tell you a little bit of background on me. I have a sports psychology masters degree, and I have been working with high performing, young athletes for over 15 years. My specialties are helping people overcome fear while also building confidence and finding flow. I do this in two different ways:
- One is through the Perform Happy community, which is an online mental toughness training center where either courses on overcoming fear, finding flow, building confidence, there are five and seven day challenges that kind of kick the fear boosting into high gear.
- We also do live trainings, and what we’re doing this month is mental toughness boot camp. So if you haven’t joined us already, you can go over to performhappy.com and check it out. I believe it’s all sold out, but you can get yourself on the wait list so that next time we open the doors, you can get the notification first.
Okay, so now onto our question from a member of the Perform Happy community. I always prioritize member questions. I’ve been getting so many questions lately that I’m glad I’ve chosen to do it this way because it makes sure that the members get the most access to me, and that’s the way I had intended it. This gymnast’s mom says,
Q: “My daughter wants to quit. She has struggled with the fear issues for a couple of years, but she seems to finally be overcoming it and doing her skills. Do I encourage her to hang in there, or support her decision?”
Okay, first of all, hooray! Congratulations. Your daughter has overcome her fear. I mean, this is something that I know she’s been struggling with for a long time, and a lot of the members in the community have joined for the same reason; because they want to learn to overcome fear. And now she says she wants to quit, and this is something that I’ve had a handful of conversations with just in the last seven days with parents, where they are like, “Well, my kid needs to stick with it because X, Y, and Z. They need to get over their demons and don’t quit out of fear and make sure they get their skills before they quit.” Or in this case, she’s getting her skills, and now she’s on the brink of success and she wants to quit. What do I do? What’s the best thing?
I’m going to give you guys some ideas on how to have that conversation, some of the pros and cons of quitting, and then just the questions to ask so that you can make sure that you’re supporting your child in the very best way. The first thing is, you have to listen. The second I read this question, what popped into my head was “communicate.” Ask her. Should I let her quit? Well, I don’t know. Ask her, don’t ask me.
I’m going to give you my ideas, but she’s the one who you ultimately got to create a safe space to communicate with, so that you can have that potentially difficult conversation and know if it’s the right thing to do for her, for the family, for her future, self esteem. All of that.
Your Experiences Build Your Future
The first thing is I always send people back to is a course in the Perform Happy community. It’s a bonus course called Peak Performance Parenting. One of the main things I teach in there is exactly how to talk to your kid. How to listen in the right way, how to respond in the right way. Use those methods and make sure that you are listening in a really empathic way. Creating a safe space and coming from a place of neutrality. Make sure that you’re not pushing your own agenda.
Of course, you have dumped so much into this sport, so many hours. And probably part of you is like, “Oh my gosh. I could have so much money left.” Or, “I don’t have to do that on weekends.” There’s part of you that’s probably like, “That’s not the worst idea.” But at the same time, you’re like, “But I don’t want my kid to look back and have regret.”
I was one of the kids who quit out of fear. Do I regret it now? Absolutely not because that’s my whole livelihood today, is using my experience to help other people. I know that my path unfolded exactly the way it was supposed to. When I was 17, I had these thoughts that, “Gosh, what if I would have kept going?” But I know today that my path was my path and it was exactly right. One thing, for anybody who’s ever worried about making a decision, I don’t believe there are such thing as wrong decisions. It’s just this consequence or that consequence. Either way, you’re going to learn something if you’re open to it. If you can move through your life learning from mistakes, from success, then that’s where you get a worthwhile life.
The Pros and Cons of Quitting
If we can help our kids learn about themselves and make decisions based on inner truth and intuition rather than fear or feeling uncomfortable, then we’re raising good kids. That’s what we want for our kids, right? A worthwhile life. Here are, the way I see it, the pros and cons of quitting versus not quitting. Some benefits of letting your child walk away, and then some of the drawbacks of letting your child walk away.
For the pros, it’s always good to encourage them to experiment with other forms of self-expression. We get into this early specialization, which makes for really skilled athletes in one sport or one activity. But because of the amount of hours that’s required, kids are not really able to express themselves in different ways. I used to do soccer, and I did gymnastics, and I was in the choir, and I did cheerleading. I did all these different things, but then there was a time when my mom was like, “Pick one, girlfriend, because I only have one car. There’s only one me and I got to get you there, so pick one.”
I picked gymnastics, which I loved, but maybe I would’ve liked singing or dancing. And there’s a lot of things I didn’t try as a result, so that’s something that you can allow her to express herself elsewhere. She might have other gifts she doesn’t even know about. A lot of the time, parents are like, “But I can’t let her quit, she’s so talented. She’s so capable.” I remember the kids that I used to coach in gymnastics. It would be so hard to get a commitment from them because they’re so talented, but they’re also really good at soccer. And they’re also really good at climbing rocks.
Pro: Your Athlete May Want to Explore Other Things
You guys know I don’t love the word talent, because really hard work pays off a lot more than talent. These kids who are good at one thing are probably going to be good at other stuff, too. So she might have gifts that she needs to explore elsewhere that she can feel really good about.
Yeah, early specialization, it’s a necessary evil if you want to go into a certain sport and have a lot of success, but there’s a lot of debate around early specialization if it’s really the best for our kids. I’m not going to put my opinion here, but maybe I’ll write about that at some point. Something to consider is that it’s supposed to be fun. Yes, I fully believe in experiential learning. I believe that when you are in the fire, you learn what you’re made out of.
She wants to try track and drama? Awesome. I was actually suggested that I try drama. But she might be able to express herself in that way and still get her endorphins going in track. I mean, there’s no right or wrong way to do life. I know I’m really cheerleading the, “Go ahead and quit.” But don’t worry; I’m going to give you guys some cons, too.
It’s Supposed to be Fun
You should be working hard, you should be pushing yourself to the edge so that you can really know who you are and what you’re made out of. I think that’s absolutely the reason that I am happy and content today is because of all the fire I went up against in my life.
At the same time, this is our one life. We really should be enjoying it. If I’m moping through years of my life because I’m supposed to be getting better through trial and error like ugh. I don’t know. There’s a point where your intuition and your gut have to come in and let you know that maybe there’s something different out there.
This is an opportunity to allow your kid to speak from their heart, trust their gut, and lean on their intuition. And in my fear course, one of the biggest things that I teach is that you have to be able to listen to your intuition. You listen to your brain, you listen to your heart. Because your brain and your heart know what’s right for you. When we go against it, that’s when we actually create these mental blocks because our brains and our hearts have to revolt in order to keep us safe.
This is something that I actually thought of, and it may or may not be right, but I thought that maybe the reason why she’s overcoming her fears is because she’s learning to trust her heart and her intuition. And that might be the reason why your athlete wants to quit. I could be way off, but that was kind of my intuitive thought around it, is that maybe this is a really positive side effect of the fact that she now is in touch with what’s true and right for her. That is just my thought.
Con: Social Issues
Okay, now on to the cons. One of the main reasons why kids struggle in sports is because of social issues, and being in that adolescent age, between 10 and 14, social issues become a pressure cooker. If a coach is humiliating her, if a teammate is rolling their eyes at her, if she’s comparing herself to, “Yeah, I’m getting my skills back, but I should be over their with Suzy doing that level if I had got my skills back sooner. I should be over here. I’m older, I’m taller.” I had a lot of that. I was older and taller and I had to really be careful to not compare myself to the little seven-year-old level seven who was kicking my butt every day.
‘Cause I just knew, you know what? I got a later start, I’m a little bit more afraid, I’m a little bit more slow going. And that’s just me. But that’s a really important thing to cover with her because if it is a social issue, then that might be something that you can help resolve with her. Not for her, but with her. If you can talk to the coach or to other parents. I know this is the hardest thing, but that would be something really worth looking into. Is there a social issue that’s making her want to not deal?
Should you Push Your Kid?
Something I was just reading recently is Michelle Obama’s list of things on how to raise your kid. Whether or not you’re a fan, I kind of liked her concept where she has her daughters do two sports, one she picks and one they pick. And the one they pick they just get to do whatever they want, and she picks one that puts them in a position where they have to work hard because it doesn’t necessarily come as easy to them. And I have various thoughts on this, but I thought it was really interesting because every parent has this whole, “What’s the right way?”
Should I push my kid? Should they have fun? Or should they be challenged? You know, every family is so different. There’s definitely value in struggle and not having instant gratification. I think any sport with good coaches is going to provide that. And it’s really up to you. Do you want to have your kid be miserable? Is it going to be worth it? Maybe, I don’t know. If it’s just your ego that’s like, “I have to look like a good parent by pushing my kid through this.” Check yourself. Check in and think, “am I trying to be a good parent?” If so, shush that, and check in with your own intuition and your own heart. What’s right for you? What feels right?
The Conversation to Have When Your Athlete Wants to Quit
Okay, she’s saying, “That’s what I feel. She’s frustrated ’cause it’s no longer coming easily, she’s tired of the struggle.” You know, and maybe it is. And it doesn’t mean that any other sport’s going to have less struggle. This is my next portion of our talk here, is what to do. How to talk to her. I’m going to give you guys some suggestions on what to say if this is coming up for you. The types of questions you want to ask your kid. The first one is, who chose the sport to begin with? Was it you? Was it her? And why did she love it? What does she like about it? What’s she good at it?
Who Chose the Sport to Begin With?
Try not to let her run because it’s not easy. That’s life, life is not easy. Life is definitely not easy. And there’s no right answer, but yeah. Allow these questions to kind of stir inside of you and then have that open conversation and let her know. “You know what honey? I am totally open to what this life has to hold for you, and I know that I don’t know everything. I care about you so much and want the best for you. Simply put, I want to help you grow into a strong, confident woman. And I want to do whatever I can to do that, even if it means you’re uncomfortable.” But at the same time, you’re going to let her fight her own battles.
So, she chose it and she continued because she was good. She wasn’t so good last year. Okay, so there might be more challenge to be had here, but bottom line, have a conversation with here. Here’s some other questions that I recommend parents in this position ask: is she mentally, physically burned out? Does she need a break?
Does Your Athlete Need a Break?
Maybe she needs a break. I’ve worked with a couple of girls who were elite, training with the best of the best, and they became so miserable that they ended up quitting and then were able to come back later. I actually personally coached a girl who the fun had kind of had left for her. Two girls. And then they came back because they wanted to, because they enjoyed it.
They weren’t really worried about going to college or worried about being the best on their team. They weren’t even worried about the kids that passed them up in the levels. Instead they just came back for fun, and they had so much more fun than anybody else on the team because it was so obviously their choice to be there.
One of them said, “I’m going to do this through high school and I’m going to do the best I can and get as far as I can.” It doesn’t mean that if she takes a break she can never go back. That’s a common misconception. Especially in a young sport, if you start really young, then you lose your momentum. Not necessarily, depends on what you’re going for.
Are the Practices Harder Than Before?
If she’s having to work harder, she’s up leveled, if she has got in a position where the discomfort is outweighing the fun for right now, then yeah. I mean, that might be a reason for her to kind of not feel her joy. Okay, her coach told her that. Yeah, that it’s gotten harder. And another thing is has she gone through a growth spurt? I’m guessing that she has. If she’s gone through a growth spurt, she becomes less coordinated. Even though she’s getting mentally tougher, her body’s kind of having to climb this mountain of catching up. And she has to get stronger to catch up with the new body that she has to move around.
My suggestion is just open up all of that. Is this what’s going on for you? Is this what’s going on for you? What do you want? What do you need? And then you can let her know where you’re coming from, but really from a neutral place, and then just listen. Listen. Repeat her words back to her. Listen to what she has to say. And talk about her goals. Socially, physically. Her coach told her that if she quits now, no real coming back. And yes, the growth spurt did happen.
Okay, well, I’m going to agree to disagree with her coach. I’ve personally seen two girls come back and really enjoy their experience. I think they went up to level seven or eight, it wasn’t like this big went to college and won. It was they got to go back and enjoy their sport and fall back in love with it. That’s definitely a possibility, even if the coach doesn’t believe it. Not saying she needs to take a break, but these are the options.
Some Reasons Why Your Athlete Wants to Quit
I would say do a whole lot of sleeping on it so that you can make sure to have enough conversations. She’s already a level eight, awesome. She can keep moving through, she can stay put. There are a lot more options than we are led to believe, typically.
Here are the main reasons why kids want to quit. They’re not having fun, they’re not seeing improvement, there’s too much pressure, or they’re not getting enough attention. If you can remedy that, find her fun. Help her to see where she is improving, because I’m guessing she’s not seeing as much improvement as she’s actually doing, especially since she’s been doing this whole mental thing. Pressure, is there pressure? Where is it coming from? Is it coming from her? Is it coming from the coach? How can you dissolve that a little bit? Kind of take the pressure off.
Is she not getting enough attention ’cause younger kids are more talented, blah, blah? Can you help her to figure out what’s going well and celebrate with her. For her effort, of course, not just her outcomes. And bottom line, if she’s doesn’t enjoy it, if it’s because her schedule’s too hectic or it interferes with school or something she truly loves, then let her walk away. And, otherwise, I’m a big fan of if you don’t know, do nothing. Don’t jump to any conclusions if everybody’s in doubt. If you’re in doubt, just hang out with it. And hopefully, you guys will become more clear. And the more that you can be honest with her, be neutral, don’t force your agenda, then you’re going to be able to guide her to find her own intuitive path.
All right you guys, I’m out of time. And I will see you again next week. Feel free to submit questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Oh, and if you want a free download this week, I have a report that’s Five Things to Never Say to Your Kid After A Competition, and you can download that for free at completeperformancecoaching.com/five. All right, guys. See you soon.