Quitting Children’s Sports and Other Extracurricular Activities

I’m sure this will offend some readers so I’ll go ahead and establish that up front. Here’s your warning. You might get offended, but there are some things that need to be said.


First, I want to establish that I have never been a huge fan of keeping kids incredibly busy with outside activities. It seems that today many families run from one lesson, activity, practice, etc. to another with a quick stop for fast food in between. Although my children have always been taught at home, homeschoolers are not exempt from the fast-paced life most Americans have established.


Second, with the above thoughts in mind, I did allow my children to try martial arts (specifically TaeKwonDo) several years ago and we’re still doing it. It has been an awesome experience for them and not only have they learned important self-defense skills, but they’ve also gained valuable life lessons, leadership skills, social skills and much more.


With a background counseling parents, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with many parents about issues they face with their children. I love being able to help parents learn how to better cope with challenges, seek creative solutions to problems and renew relationships with their children. Frequently, however, I come across one particular issue that baffles me. Here’s how it usually goes…


Little Susie is being a horrid child. She talks back to her parents, is doing poorly in school, has few friends and spends a large amount of her time sulking. Well, she behaves this way 98% of the time. As a matter of fact, the only time she doesn’t behave this way is when she is in ballet class (scouts, art class, cricket club, softball practice, etc. – just replace with your favorite imaginary extracurricular activity). When I talk with the parents about possible ways to address Little Susie’s behavior and attitude, the one thing I definitely do NOT recommend is removal from that activity, yet over the past decade I’ve been amazed at how often that is the most common disciplinary option they choose.


Here’s where I might be slightly offensive…


Why in the WORLD would you take a child out of the ONLY activity that is producing the behavioral results you seek?????  This makes no sense to me whatsoever.


Extracurricular activities have been proven to have positive effects on behavior, grades, school completion, social activity and the likelihood of becoming a successful adult. Participation in activities, especially athletics, has also been linked to higher self-esteem, peer status (others look up to this kid!) and possibly a deterrent to antisocial behavior.


Yet, if your child is acting out at home or school, by all means, take them out of the activity that might actually help. Don’t worry about the fact that the child is disrespectful to everyone except the instructor, coach or teacher. Ignore the fact that your child might behave poorly at home because YOU and your child have issues. Even though sports in particular increase children’s attention spans, you can always take them off the team and have them put on attention deficit medicine instead.


After my children began taking martial arts classes several years ago, I actually decided about two years later that I would do it. They were doing well and I thought it looked like fun. Now I actually have the blessing of teaching other students and they are an awesome part of my family’s life. We look forward to seeing these kids several days each week. I’m grateful that where I teach, I don’t hear it very often, but occasionally I’ll hear a parent express these thoughts about quitting (with the kids who need it most). Over the years, though, as I said, I’ve literally heard these same comments in regards to almost every activity you can imagine:  scouts, homeschool co-ops, sports, dance, art, even things like getting to drive. Even though the activity was the ONE THING the child did without a bad attitude, the parent used it as a punishment.


So here are some things I would ask them to think about. If you take away the one behavior that is producing positive results, how do you then expect any positive results?


I already know the return argument. I’ve heard it before. It goes something like this, “But I want my child to earn this activity so if he behaves (improves grades, stops acting out, etc.), I will let him come back.” Hmmm. Well, here’s the problem with that logic. Just imagine me yelling when you read this:  And what if he doesn’t?  Then what?


Seriously. What if he doesn’t? The parent basically just set the child up for failure. The child has to change behavior BEFORE he can continue the activity that was helping him, yet since the activity itself was the thing that was helping the child make improvements, it’s likely that change is never going to happen. And to be quite honest, I think many of these parents know it.


Now in case any of you are wondering, I’m not saying parents should never ever stop activities. There are times when arts classes end, scout groups become too liberal, sport coaches start focusing too much on winning, or perhaps the child is just ready to move on to another activity. In those cases, it’s not about quitting so much as making a thoughtful decision based on factors other than punishing the child because he’s doing well in the activity. If possible, it’s great if you can encourage your child to finish a commitment before moving on. Unless it’s unavoidable, have the child finish the season, participate in the final show or find a replacement before moving on. Hopefully your goal with having children in extracurricular activities in the first place is more than just keeping them busy. Hopefully you want to help them establish a sense of responsibility, develop positive character traits, get along in difficult situations and finish an activity. This will serve them well in life as they find (and keep!) jobs, take care of families, pursue dreams and live with a feeling of fulfillment rather than failure.


And by all means, please feel free to ask if you have any parenting-related questions. I love to talk with parents. However, please don’t tell me you’re going to take your child out of an activity because you’re upset that it’s the only place he behaves. I’ll just send you back a copy of this article.




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