I hate quitters. If I say I’m going to do something, I do it. And I teach my kids to be the same way.

As a parent, I did something I never thought I’d do, I encouraged my son to be a quitter. He’s an athletic kid who plays football and basketball. He has played soccer and baseball, too. Team sports have been his love.

This year as a middle school student, track was an option and, as a fast runner, he thought he’d try it. He made it halfway through the season and started to talk about quitting. He hated it because it wasn’t fun.

I teach my kids to finish what they start. I don’t allow them to abandon a team mid-season. If they don’t like it, then we don’t sign up next year. That’s been the rule and I don’t waiver.

But I realized, given how unhappy he was, that I needed to bend my own rule. So, when he wanted to quit because he hated track, I encouraged him. At first I was reluctant, I liked seeing him run, and I worried what will people think.

But my son is no quitter. He has a good reputation being a dedicated team player, so quitting one sport didn’t matter. Track is an individual sport with no set number of players needed, so his absence wouldn’t be missed. Instead of teaching him never to quit anything, I needed to teach him when it’s okay to walk away.

At age 10, he wanted to quit a sport he loved because he thought he wouldn’t make the cut for a traveling team. He figured it was better to never even try, than it was to be cut. I pushed hard, encouraging him not to quit. He tried out, and made it on a team. This case wasn’t a matter of walking away, it was a matter of not assuming failure before ever even trying. 

The youth sports environment for kids today is headed in the wrong direction. I attended a sports parents conference and was shocked hearing the speaker’s comments on the current trend in youth sports. According to the National Alliance for Youth Sports 70% of kids quit sports by age 13 because they don’t think they are good enough, or it’s no longer fun. This is an unfortunate statistic because middle school is exactly when kids begin to discover their natural skills.

Sport associations with tryout procedures that result in cutting players from an elementary or middle school age traveling team is both unforgiving and excluding. Cuts are made to build more competitive teams before most kids have even discovered their physical abilities. And once they’re cut, they’re reluctant to try out again. Cutting kids from teams leaves the majority kids out, sidelining them at at time when childhood should be about trying different sports. We’ve created an atmosphere that doesn’t allow for experimenting.

Sometimes, it’s okay for kids to quit. But making the decision to quit shouldn’t be because kids are afraid to try, or because the pressure to be excellent is too intense. Quitting, if and when it’s necessary, should be the result of fully understanding the impact of your actions, and knowing when it’s time to walk away. Not the result of low self-esteem and fear that you’ll never be good enough.