Raising quit-proof kids
By Greg Bach
Lack of game day minutes, conflicts with the coach, boring practices and stuck playing an unwanted position are just some of the many reasons that can push young athletes toward wanting to bail on the sport.
And force parents to make crucial decisions with long-term implications.
“I think it’s really important to raise kids who know how to finish what they start,” says Robin Quinn Keehn, creator and director of Raising Quit-Proof Kids™. “Really everything that we do in life requires some kind of completion, whether it’s playing a game, doing a school project, reading a book or working a shift at a job. And when kids don’t learn what it takes to stick with things when they’re young – like sports – they grow up thinking when things get hard and they don’t like something they can just quit. If they want to be successful in any endeavor they need to learn how to commit until the goal is met, and where kids learn that is from their parents. So parents are key in teaching their kids to stick.”
The youth sports landscape is littered with challenges, and young athletes looking to quit is a common problem that many of today’s moms and dads must be ready to navigate.
“In the middle of this parents can feel very frustrated and feel like there is something wrong with them, or there is something wrong with their child, or there is something wrong with the coach or the sport,” says Quinn Keehn, a mom of four. “Any long-term relationship has peaks, valleys and plateaus. And we all hit them. It doesn’t matter if we’re a child or an adult, we all go through these cycles. So there is hope, it will pass, and if you know that it’s coming and you know what it takes to deal with these things then you can go on to raise kids who learn how to deal with long-term relationships and long-term commitments. Sports are a great way of going through these cycles – as long as parents know there is hope and they don’t let their child quit. We can teach our kids a lot by being involved in sports from the start.”
Quinn Keehn’s program works with parents on six key areas: being present; intentionally selecting activities and outcomes; managing the cycles of commitment; requiring their kids to do things, not just asking them to; what to do with negative behavior; and working together to build character.
“I really want to help parents understand that they are ok, their kids are ok, and they can do this,” she says. “They can raise kids that go on to be quite successful in whatever they are doing, whether it’s work, sports, college or relationships.”
Quinn Keehn operated a music and dance studio for many years that catered to 500 kids annually, and she saw the challenges parents were facing firsthand when a child wanted to bail on the activity.
“I realized over watching this for many years that parents just don’t know what to do with their kids when they suddenly want to quit,” she explains. “They don’t know why they want to quit, and kids know how to turn that up really loud for parents, so they start whining and crying and complaining. And it’s not even necessarily that they want to quit. Sometimes I think it’s just a power struggle like, ‘ok, will my mom let me? Will my dad let me quit if I get loud enough? What’s it going to take?’ And unfortunately, a lot of times we wear down as parents. We just get tired of the complaining and so we let them quit. But it’s really to nobody’s benefit.”
GAME PLANNING: DETERMINING DURATION AND OUTCOME
One of the mistakes Quinn Keehn sees is parents failing to think about the big picture when it comes to their child’s participation in sports.
“What I think parents would really benefit from, and their kids would benefit from, is actually being thoughtful about what they are picking for their child and actually knowing what they want to have happen,” she says.
That means choosing a duration and outcome that parents share with the youngster before the season begins, which can be vital for silencing thoughts of quitting midseason.
And then speaking with the child to share the plan for the season. Quinn Keehn explains: “The first conversation would be, ‘Hey bud, we decided that soccer would be a great sport for you since you’ve expressed an interest in playing. We want you to know that we are going to do it for the whole season and that there are probably going to be some ups and downs. You’re going to love it, and at some point you’re probably not going to love it, and there may be really good reasons why you don’t love it, but we’re committing for the whole season. We’re happy to talk about it with you and listen to you when you need to tell us something about it. So we just want you to know going in this is a commitment that we are making, both for us and for you.’ If you haven’t had that conversation, and if there has been any quitting in the past, it’s almost guaranteed if he’s not getting played, or he doesn’t like his coach, there will be some kind of reason for him to want to quit. But if you have had that conversation and you are committed to it, you’ve got something to go with and you’ve got a reason why you are going to stick with it and he’s clear about it. That is really powerful in keeping your kid going.”
RECOGNIZING PROBLEMS THAT REQUIRE STEPPING AWAY
While Quinn Keehn is a strong advocate for teaching children the importance of sticking with sports and activities until their conclusion, of course there are dangerous situations that sometimes arise regarding abuse and safety issues that she points out requires parents removing their child.
“If there was an abusive situation with another team member or the coach, or a child was at risk of long-term injury, those are reasons to let your child quit,” she says. “As a parent you would just know in your gut this is not right – we can’t do this anymore.”
It’s well documented that children learn all sorts of life lessons through competing in sports: teamwork, winning and losing with grace and respecting authority, among so many others.
But when kids are permitted to quit a sport mid-season, those lessons they are taking away from the experience are draped in negativity and are often accompanied by costly consequences later on.
“When we let our kids quit we are teaching them a lesson, which is when you don’t like something it’s ok to quit,” Quinn Keehn says. “But what happens when they are in high school and they have a project due and they just decide they don’t like the teacher or they don’t like the project and they are just going to quit? They have already learned that if they complain enough they can get away with it. But now the stakes are a little bit higher than youth soccer.”
For more information, or to download a free copy of The Raising Quit-Proof Kids Roadmap, visit https://quitproofkids.com/.
Robin Quinn Keehn
Former University of Michigan hockey player and current youth sports coach Tim Cook, author of the new book Youth Sports: How to Play the Game, on talking to coaches, celebrating failure, and more
Use these tips to be a positive influence and source of support for your child while helping them have a fun and rewarding youth sports experience
If you don’t intentionally create habits that serve you and the people you love, who will?
Troubling trend: Young athletes overusing acetaminophens and ibuprofens