As Americans, we don’t like quitting. We’re not quitters.

We sometimes even go out of our way to avoid the word “quit.”

I have coached gymnastics on and off since 2006. In 2009, I was coaching a talented gymnast who, right before the meet season started, was suddenly terrified to jump from the low bar to the high bar. It’s a common fear, especially when you are tiny.

Before practice one day, the head coach told me that the gymnast had “retired.” He didn’t use the word “quit.” He used the word “retired.” She was 9 years old. I never saw her again.

I’m a big believer that, just like a kip or a free throw or a curveball, quitting – and quitting well – is one of the essential skills that children should learn while participating in youth sports or activities.

Quitting isn’t taught. It isn’t even talked about. It should be. Your children will likely do a lot of quitting, in youth activities and then in the business world. We all do.

Americans born in the later years of the baby boom era (1957 to 1964) held an average of 12.4 jobs from ages 18 to 54, with nearly half of those jobs held before the age of 25, according to a longitudinal study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That’s an awful lot of quitting. And, it can be beneficial. U.S. workers who changed jobs saw higher wage growth than other workers following the COVID-19 downturn, according to the Pew Research Center.

As a coach and as a parent, I’ve learned that summer is often the time when children bring up quitting, especially as they get older. The lure of water, friends, sun and fun outside of the gym, off the field, away from the rink, etc., is hard to resist.

Here is how to teach your child to quit. These questions are also useful for adults who haven’t quite gotten the hang of it.

Does the child truly want to quit?

This is often the trickiest part of the process. Everyone goes through some valleys, moments of doubts, fears. Has the child talked consistently about a desire to quit? Wanting to quit from time to time is normal. Coming home after every practice and crying or begging to quit is not normal. Another important question to ask: Is the sport or activity negatively affecting the child’s mental health, physical health, eating patterns or quality of sleep? If that is the case, the answer is probably a resounding “yes”; get ready to quit. If the child still doesn’t know where their heart is, buy the child a journal. Have the child start journaling regularly. If the child doesn’t particularly like to write, drawing is fine. What patterns emerge over time? Seeing a sports psychologist or another professional can also be helpful to children, especially high-level youth athletes.

When is the ideal time for the child to quit?

The answer to this question varies based on the type of sport or activity your child is doing. Typically, the best time to quit is at the end of the season, when the show is over, when the final game has been played, after the curtain closes following the concert, etc. Remind your child that their peers are likely counting on them in some way. Ask your child this question: “If you don’t come back, who will be immediately affected? Will the team/group/performance be OK without you? Are you OK with that?” Sometimes, it isn’t possible to quit at an ideal time. For example, if a child is not sleeping at night because she has so much anxiety about tennis practice the next morning, quitting immediately might be the healthier path than sticking it out until the end of the season.

How should the child actually quit?

The best practice, whether in youth sports/activities or in business, is to quit in person. (As a parent, do not quit for the child over text, email, phone message, etc.) The actual quitting is one of the most important life skills. Schedule a meeting with the child’s coach or instructor. Have the child tell the adult in person. Let the child determine how long the meeting will be. If the relationship is solid, the child might want to do an extended goodbye. I recommend that both the child and the family write the child’s coach or instructor a thank-you note, as long as the words are authentic. Younger children can do drawings if they’re not comfortable writing. Tell the coach or the instructor what was learned. Tell the coach or instructor that they’re appreciated.

How can the child honor and appreciate the journey?

Some children and parents might go through a grieving process after ending a sport or an activity. Others might be celebrating. All feelings are valid. My recommendation is to try to go back to the very beginning. Look back at photos, videos or other mementos from when the child started the activity. Try to focus not just on what the child has achieved, but what the child has learned. Some children and families might like to create shadow boxes, a scrapbook or other displays recognizing a child’s time in a sport or an activity. Some children might want to get rid of everything. That’s OK, too. (I’ve found that for many kids going through the process of quitting, it can be healing to donate sports uniforms, balls, gear, instruments, etc., to younger children, especially those with fewer resources.)

How can the child continue relationships formed during that sport or activity?

If it is possible to plan the child’s last night with the team/group, tell your child to be mindful about future relationships. Bring treats or refreshments during the child’s last time with the group. Find a way to celebrate, if your child feels like celebrating. Exchange contact information with other parents. Mention that your child would like to stay in touch with their child.

Can the child ever go back after quitting?

I’m a big believer that the answer is yes. The child’s journey with the activity might look different. For example, some former gymnasts become gymnastics coaches, judges, choreographers, physical therapists or sports journalists. Many sports and activities are lifetime pursuits. There are recreational leagues, intramurals, volunteer bands and orchestras, and community theater productions. Remember that the activity should bring the child joy. And it should help make the child a better human. Learning to quit is part of that.

Happy quitting!
Nicole Grundmeier, Business Record staff writer

(An important aside: If your child is being abused during a sport or an activity, report the abuse to the police immediately. Abuse can be physical, sexual, verbal or emotional. Do not assume the sport’s governing body or anyone else will investigate a report of abuse or hold an abuser accountable. Always go to the police first, preferably police in the city or county where the abuse occurred. More information can be found at the U.S. Center for SafeSport.)

Nicole Grundmeier is a Business Record staff writer and a former gymnastics coach. She has taught USA Gymnastics classes from preschool to Junior Olympic Level 5.