It may seem unremarkable and certainly not life-altering to have your child decide to quit the soccer team, but the decision often has far-reaching effects. Families find themselves at loose ends, social ties are broken and feelings of discontent can create a type of long-lasting gloom. How should a family handle the decision to leave a team in order to minimize its impact?
First of all, be sure the decision is based on reasoned consideration. Many times players will have temporary setbacks that can eat at them and create the desire to flee the situation. Teammates may have said something mean, a coach may have been particularly gruff, or the player may feel he or she is falling behind. The problem could be outside of soccer, like a bad grade at school or a fight with a friend that makes a child feel overwhelmed and anxious to control the few things he or she can control. Before agreeing to quit, parents need to explore what is motivating this desire. We should always emphasize the importance of a commitment and sticking it out both for the child’s sake and the team’s sake. Of course, this time of year the commitment is nearly over and players are anticipating try outs, so that particular encouragement won’t be effective. However, it’s possible that the anxiety over try outs may prompt our child to flee the challenge. So we need to talk to our kids about those feelings as well as finding out if they really want to play but are afraid they will "fail" when it comes to the test.
Second, discuss with your child the fact that quitting will probably be irreversible. Most state associations don’t allow players to change clubs in the middle of a season. Rules vary, but in general the policy states that the club has the final say. A player must be completely paid up for the club to even consider a transfer, which means most scholarship players won’t be able to leave. Soccer is a tight-knit community, so other clubs will know that a child has quit. They may regard that move as too risky for their teams to offer that player a spot. Quitting shouldn’t become the way to handle adversity when things get tough. Parents need to be sure that the reasons for quitting are legitimate and not transitory. One option might be to take a week’s break just to see how it goes. Give your child a few days to decompress then have a heart to heart laying out the options and the consequences. Be sure to let them know it’s their choice, but they should be considerate in making the selection. Don’t be afraid to talk to your child no matter the age. Even 6-year-old players can be articulate about why they don’t want to continue, and it’s important to mull over the reasons.
Third, if your child has been playing for just a year or for several years, suddenly being without the camaraderie of that sideline social group can put parents in a tailspin. Leaving a team can be akin to leaving a congregation, board, job or book club. Things and people you’ve been used to and formed attachments with are no longer in your social circle. Despite promises to stay in touch those rarely pan out since the basis for the relationships has gone. So parents need to understand that having a child quit a team can leave a void in their own lives. In addition, there’s that routine we complain about when it comes to practices and games, but we find it disconcerting when that’s no longer part of our lives. When Robbie left the Chicago Magic to spend his high school senior year with a local team, I would wake up in the middle of the night panicked that I had forgotten to drive him down to Chicago! Certainly, we all eventually adjust to the change, but we have to be prepared for feelings of loss and even depression. We also need to be careful not to pressure our kids into staying on a team for our own reasons. If quitting is really the best option, then we need to absorb the potential upset to our lives.
Fourth, find another activity for your child. Quitting soccer shouldn’t be the end of participating in youth pastimes. You don’t need to replace soccer with another sport, although you may find that your child craves the physically of sports, just not soccer. Some kids do better with team sports and some do better with individual sports. One of our sons hated the downtime of baseball and loved the continual movement of basketball and soccer. The other son loved baseball and hated basketball. So finding the right sport may require some trial and error (and therefore some quitting). However, consider other pursuits such as musical instruments, art, dramatics or forensics. Our nephew gave up rowing for a year so he could do school plays. We saw his performances, and he is quite good, obviously loving the change. His mother was a rower at Harvard, but wisely set her hopes aside to accommodate her son’s dreams. One grandson plays the trombone as well as playing baseball and football, but his parents agree he would probably give up the sports and just concentrate on his music, so that may be in his future. The important message here would be that every child needs an outlet for that creative/physical side beyond school. So find something that engages them no matter what that may be.
Finally, we can’t see quitting as a failure and we can’t convey failure to our children. If we go through the process wisely and thoughtfully, we can fully justify the decision. Sometimes we have to quit just to be able to move to the next adventure. The only failure would be in a knee-jerk reaction to a temporary or solvable situation. We need to teach our children that quitting has to be saved for very significant occasions. We should support the careful consideration that precedes a decision to quit so that we can ultimately support quitting if that is the end result. As our kids move through life they will sample several options and some will not suit their personalities or skills. We just need to be sure that those are the reasons for leaving. Because soccer is a fast-growing sport, there can lots of pressure from friends and neighbors to join a soccer team. As much as I love soccer, I realize it’s not for everyone. Therefore, we parents have to be ready for the words, "I want to quit soccer," even if we think it’s a wrong-headed idea. Take a deep breath, approach gently, and if the discussion leaves no other option than quitting, be prepared to say OK. If it’s not fun, there’s no reason to force participation. There are plenty of other options out there that can provide the fun our children may be missing in soccer.