Both of my girls are playing soccer this spring. Last Saturday, we hauled ourselves out of bed at 7:30 in the morning, put on at least five layers of clothes and froze in the wind as we stood out on a treeless field to watch their games. It couldn't have been less fun for me (except for the whole watching-my-kids part), but they couldn't have loved it more.
I might need a little more practice at this soccer mom thing, but my girls are gung-ho about their future as soccer stars. It's early in the season, though, and I know that in about four more weeks, there's going to be some complaining. Soccer eats up two nights a week and every Saturday morning -- that's a lot for my kids, who are known for enjoying their downtime.
It's not unusual for kids to lose interest in an activity -- they are kids, after all -- before a sports season or class or session is over. So how do parents decide whether to let kids quit or make them stick out their commitment?
Sports psychologist and parent Cory Bank, Ph.D., weighed in, writing in an e-mail that kids quit for a variety of reasons. Younger kids might get frustrated if their team is on a losing streak, for instance, and kids at any age can burn out on an activity that uses up too much of their spare time, Bank says.
Kids' interests also change as they get older. "The figure skater who loves skating three hours a day and competing on weekends at 8 years old might have a different outlook and attitude at 14," Bank writes.
Bank says that to prevent burnout, parents should turn their focus away from performance and teach kids to enjoy the process instead, valuing teamwork and persistence over winning. In addition, writes Bank, "Playing only one sport all year long can lead to an increase in both physical injuries and psychological burnout."
But what if you've done everything right and your kiddo still makes himself scarce the minute you start looking for the soccer cleats? Then it's time to figure out exactly what's going on, Bank says.
Reasons kids want to quit can include: fear of failure and/or humiliation, fatigue and fun (as in, they aren't having any). "Someone who is burned out from their sport and has no desire to play might do well with a break," Bank says. "But a child who is in a little slump might do well sticking it out and learning about persevering through adversity."
Deciding how much is too much -- and whether or not you should push your little sports star to carry on -- is a judgment call only a parent can make. But Bank reminds parents that less is more. "I would make sure -- especially at the younger ages -- to be more conservative with the number of activities and sports that a child participates in," he says. "If a young athlete burns out early, they are less likely to return to sports participation." Sports, after all, are supposed to be fun.
Next up: What happens when Mom burns out after having to get out of bed on too many cold Saturday mornings?!
Tell us about your experience with kids and sports. What do you do when they get whiny?