Connect with Kids : Weekly News Stories : “Living from the Inside Out…When is it OK to Quit?”

Living from the Inside Out…When is it OK to Quit?

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Wednesday, November 24th, 2010 | CWK Producer

“That night, I came home to my parents, and said, I can’t do this anymore. I’m tired, I don’t like it, I want to quit.”

– Chandler, 19 years old

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What’s going on with teens today? Headlines tell tales of bullying, drug abuse, depression and anxiety. In addition to academic pressures, thousands of kids have jam-packed days, filled with sports, drama, dance, music lessons. According to the organization Citizenship Through Sports Alliance, 70% of kids quit youth sports by the time they are 14.

Why? And when can it really be healthy for kids to quit?

Chandler, age 19, started playing the game at the age of nine and loved it. And then she got to high school … where expectations increased, competition intensified and coaches added early morning workouts.

“It started at 6 a.m. They had us hop onto three boxes and then jump up and touch the rim. I was so tired at this point. I was jumping as hard as I could, as high as I could, but I could not get that rim,” says Chandler.

Chandler had a decision to make. She spent six years of her life learning the game, perfecting her shot, trying to increase her speed. But chandler was changing and learning to think for herself.

“That night, I came home to my parents, and said, I can’t do this anymore. I’m tired, I don’t like it, I want to quit. They were worried I was giving up, and they didn’t want to instill that value in me. They wanted me to be a kid who would not stop at anything… but the thing is, that outcome in the end was not going to be rewarding enough for me,” says Chandler.

It’s a challenge for lots of parents…. When do you let kids quit? But ask a coach about kids who play for their parents … in time, the game becomes a wedge between the parent and the child.

“So maybe the backlash isn’t ‘I’m going to mess up on the court’ but ‘I’m not going to talk to you at dinner, I am not going to share with you dreams and ideas, we’re not going to have those good ol’ heart-to-hearts, we’re not going to do that.’ You know, I am going to be your employee, I am going to go score some points and we won’t have a relationship outside of that,” says Greg McClaire, a middle and high school basketball coach.

How many kids are playing a sport … taking lessons … picking classes to please their parents… and not themselves? And, in the end, is that why some of them will fail?

Experts surmise that to some degree, the joy is lost in a constant striving for trophies, rewards and recognition – external values versus intrinsic motivations.

“When we do things we don’t want to do that are extrinsic, um, that are sort of directed from the outside, we can do them, but they, they tire us out, they burn us out, um, we don’t get that sense of enjoyment or joy,” says Keith Campbell, Ph.D., and head of the Psychology Department at the University of Georgia.

The number of kids who are anxious and clinically depressed has tripled in recent years. Experts say one reason may be the pressure to live a life not their own. Experts urge parents to make sure kids enjoy their activities and that they’re not just playing to please others.

“The biggest thing was that I got my confidence back. I was doing something that made me happy…that I felt that I was doing not for others, but for internal reasons,” says Chandler.

What We Need To Know

Refocusing goals from today’s “race for reward” to more intrinsic values including integrity, compassion, perseverance and responsibility requires parental and community support. Chandler DeWitt, a teen author reflecting upon her high school experiences, and wrote a book with short stories about the stress, anxiety, competition, cruelty, the need to please, and all of the day-to-day tension. “While I was in high school, sometimes I felt like I was living for someone else. Rather than trying to figure out who I was, I was trying to be the person someone else wanted me to be. I knew many of my friends felt that way too, but no one should live life that way,” she says. “If everybody is honest, a lot of the pressure to perform comes from our parents, teachers and other adults.”

Twenty million kids register each year for youth hockey, football, baseball, soccer, and other competitive sports. The National Alliance for Sports reports that 70 percent of these kids quit playing these league sports by age 13 — and never play them again.

According to Michael Pfahl, executive director of the National Youth Sports Coaches Association, “The number one reason (why they quit) is that it stopped being fun.” With that in mind, here are some key points to remember about kids playing sports.

  • Preschool Focus on the element of play in any sports activity you introduce to very young kids. Make it fun! Don’t burden them or concern them with competition, keeping score, and rules.
  • Elementary school Sports psychology expert Rick Wolff, author of Good Sports, stresses that parents of kids ages 5-12 need not be concerned with their child’s excellence at such refined sports skills as corner kicks and drag bunts. Parents and coaches need to be aware of what kids can accomplish at their differing developmental levels — physically, intellectually, emotionally, and socially. Many kids lose their passion for youth sports during these years because they feel they can’t live up to their parents’ and coaches’ expectations.
  • Middle school Kids start dropping out in big numbers at this stage. Playing sports loses its enjoyment for them and “fun” takes a back seat to winning. Pick-up games and just “playing for fun” should be encouraged.
  • High school By this stage, it’s usually the successful high-school athletes who play both school sports and outside competitive-league sports. There are just so many positions to be filled on competitive teams. But what about kids who still love to play sports but can’t because of their demanding academic, social, and work lives? Parents need to remind these kids of the fun they had playing these games and help them to find time to play them with family members and friends.

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