Sports Parenting: Knowing When to Quit

By Jessica Wolstenholm

Now that the school year has gotten into the swing of things, the season has come for little league soccer games, football under the Friday night lights, and every other sport you can imagine. While these days spent on the court or in the field bring joy, tough moments and conversations arise too. To shed some light on parenting athletes, we asked blogger and dad Aaron Conrad to share his approach in a four-part series over the next month.

A few months ago, we faced one of the most difficult conversations we have had thus far with our 10-year-old daughter. Some may read this and think it seems a bit silly, but others will understand our struggle. The moment she was able to pick a sport to play, she chose gymnastics. At first, it was fun. Minimal time. Minimal cost. Tumbling and dancing around. Fun.

Then she kept moving through the various levels. Each new level brought more time, more money and a stronger commitment to the sport. This past summer, she spent her mornings in swim team practice and was quickly rushed to the gym for four hours of hard work. Before we knew it, her summer was gone. No sleepovers. No play dates with friends. Just hours in the gym working on her first love in the sporting arena: gymnastics. Over the years, we saw her continue to bounce back from injuries that would either end or completely crush her competition seasons. She never complained; she just kept on working hard.

We knew the day would come when we would have to say that it was time for this sport to end. The list of reasons to call it “over” far outweighed the list of reasons to continue. When we sat down a few months ago, we knew her runway had one more year at the most. We were coming into summer and a window of time to make the decision. So we all sat down one night and had a very difficult talk. There were tears. There was mourning. It’s tough to tell your daughter that it’s time to “call it quits” on something she loves.

While these kinds of conversations are tough, they’re likely to abound. That said, it’s important to navigate them well. Here’s a four step process that can help you and your child turn something seemingly negative into something positive:

1. Give your child options – We knew that there would be a void for our daughter once gymnastics was removed. It’s all she has really ever known. It is where she finds community. By giving her some options of things she could try after gymnastics, the wound of leaving a sport she had worked so hard for began to heal.

2. Have them make a list of ideas for the next chapter – One of the things that we did with our daughter was recommend that she make a list. I gave her a few ideas of other sports that she could try, but didn’t want her list to be my list. I recommended that she be as creative as she wanted to. This allowed her to take ownership in the decision process. I also promised we would follow up on anything she put on the list.

3. Follow up and execute on those ideas – Once my daughter’s list was complete, my wife began to research all of the various clubs, leagues, and opportunities for each sport and activity. Thankfully many of the things that she wrote down were seasonal, so this allowed her to try multiple things – from swimming and diving to running club.

4. Encourage Always – As we closed our conversation, I made sure I let our daughter know how proud I was of her. Her accomplishments and dedication to gymnastics will only help her in her future endeavors – whether sport related or not. I wanted her to know that it was okay to be sad about leaving one sport, but quickly show all of the possibilities that were yet to be tried.

Sometimes being a parent is really hard. In the big picture, sports careers and choices are nothing to the much larger choices and discussions that lie ahead. Our daughter is testing and trying new sports to replace gymnastics. She may not be the best at any or all of them, but she is willing to try. What I celebrate most is that we began to establish a rhythm this summer. She accepted our counsel and dedicated herself to moving forward. Harder conversations may come later on down the road, but she knows we’ll handle those decisions the same loving way that we’ve handled the ones we’ve encountered thus far.


Aaron Conrad is a husband, father, follower of Christ, Tar Heel fan, random tweeter and believer that Love Does!