Generally speaking, I don’t like quitting things that I’ve started, and I teach my kids the same thing. I want them to see things through and honor their commitments. And, I strive to do this as well. However, when it comes to sports teams, our family has been greatly tested in “follow through” for a variety of reasons. We even made our son quit his team once, and it was the best thing for him.
Between our four boys, they’ve done competitive gymnastics, soccer, tee ball, competitive trampolining, karate, flag football, swim team, parkour, and wrestling throughout the years. We’ve tried to introduce them to various sports so they can get exercise, learn how to be a good teammate, and discover their talents.
Our eldest LOVED gymnastics. So, we allowed him to become part of the competitive gymnastics team. This meant he had to practice 9 hours a week and travel to 7 competitions on the weekends during the competitive season. He worked hard and continued to love the sport, but he had a really hard time when he messed up his routine. Sometimes, he wouldn’t even salute the judges when he had a bad performance.
In his immaturity, he didn’t realize how disrespectful this was to the judges and to his team, but he learned this lesson the hard way when he would receive lower scores for sportsmanship.
As his parents, this was so hard to watch and very frustrating and even embarrassing. We tried and tried to prep him to maintain his composure, but nearly every competition he would refuse to salute the judges and stomp off the floor. His coach was so patient with him, but I could see this wearing thin.
Around the middle of the competition season, we arranged for our extended family to meet up with us in Tennessee to watch Cooper compete. We were all so excited. Before the competition, I told Cooper that he needed to make sure that he went out there and did his best. But most of all, I wanted him to have a good attitude and to control his temper. He agreed, half-heartedly.
Then, I gave him an ultimatum. I told him that he MUST choose a good attitude and salute the judges after each apparatus, or we would MAKE HIM QUIT the team. He looked at me as if I was kidding. When I looked right back at him–square in the eyes–he began to tear up. I told him there was no reason to cry, because there was a simple solution to this. He needed to reach down deep inside himself and choose a good attitude, no matter how he thought he performed that day. If he needed to stomp and cry, he could do it afterwards–alone or with our family. But, he had to keep his composure during the competition. I had faith in him. I knew he could do it if he really tried.
I explained to Cooper that this sport was a HUGE privilege. It was expensive and very time-consuming, but we were willing to make the sacrifice as long as he did his part too. Cooper seemed to understand where I was coming from–as much as an nine year-old could, and he agreed to salute the judges and be a good sport.
Then came competition day. Warm-ups went well, and Cooper seemed to be in good spirits. We gave him thumbs up from the stands, and he smiled back. “This is going to be a good day for him,” I thought…and prayed. He did several of his routines, and things seemed to be going well. Then, he did his floor routine–his absolute favorite, because he got to tumble. Off he went, doing splits and cartwheels. Then came the back handspring, and he bombed it. Cooper stopped, looked at his coach, looked at us, and stomped his foot. His angry and disappointed tears began to flow down his face, and without saluting, he stomped off the stage. He did the very thing he was NOT supposed to do. We’d gone through this over and over. I think I was probably more disappointed and frustrated than he was.
After the competition, Cooper came up to me and said, “Well, I guess that’s it.” I honestly didn’t know what to tell him. He was right. He’d promised this wouldn’t happen, and yet, it did. He’d let himself, us, his coach, and his whole team down. I hugged him and told him that we needed to go tell the coach that he would be quitting for the rest of the competition season. So, Cooper reluctantly did. His coach listened and said he understood where we were coming from. And, that was it.
We took the long drive home feeling sad, frustrated, and defeated. All I could think about was that I hoped this was a good “life lesson” for Cooper. But, then, I questioned whether or not we did the right thing.
I think there are 4 main scenarios when quitting might be the best thing for our children:
- If the child continually exhibits a bad attitude or disrespectful behavior at practices/competitions and is bringing down the morale of the team–even though the child wants to be a part of the team
- If the sport expenses are becoming too financially draining on the family
- If the time commitment is taxing on the family and takes away from significant time with your spouse and/or other kids at home
- If the coach or other teammates are disrespectful/hateful to you or your child on a regular basis.
In Cooper’s case, number 1 was our main reason for having him quit. Even though I knew that we’d given him ample warnings and chances to get it right prior to making him quit, I hated to see him not doing the sport that he loved. Cooper NEVER questioned why we had him quit, but he often asked if we might let him join the team the following year.
Two weeks passed by, and I received a call from Cooper’s coach. He said he had thought a lot about Cooper’s behavior and our decision to have him leave the team. He asked if we’d be willing to let him back on the team if he “earned” his way back. Coach requested that Cooper attend a few practices and one competition as simply a supportive teammate from the stands. He wanted Cooper to demonstrate a positive attitude and a willingness to encourage others without performing or competing himself.
My husband and I talked about it, and then, we asked Cooper what he thought. He immediately agreed, and then, he wrinkled his nose and said, “But, I won’t get to actually DO gymnastics for awhile?” I told him this was way more about his attitude than his athletic ability. So, we called coach and agreed. Cooper sat through several practices, and we even drove to Atlanta to cheer on his teammates from the stands. He learned a valuable lesson during that time. Cooper was a different gymnast and teammate when he returned to practice. He felt so appreciative to have another chance at competing.
And, he never failed to salute the judges again.