When Our Teen Wants to Quit a Sport: A Lesson from Olympic Athletes

Sometimes, walking away is the most courageous thing our kids can do

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: When Your Teen Wants to Quit a Sport: A Lesson from Olympic Athletes

Written by: Ali Flynn

Throughout the most recent Winter Olympics, we all heard about the growing concern for the athletes’ mental health. As a society, we seem to be in the midst of a great divide.

Those who think an athlete’s decision to remove themselves from a sport they have worked tirelessly for (one that also consumed the better part of their lives) is weak and perhaps even a copout, and those who think it shows utmost courage and strength to walk away for the sake of their mental health. We may never agree since it’s so deeply personal.

However, as a mom whose daughter recently faced the difficult decision to either stick it out or walk away from an all-consuming passion she’s had for nearly a decade, I find myself looking at Olympic athletes with a more understanding, tender, compassionate heart. 

Like so many others from my generation, I grew up believing you shouldn’t quit. Regardless of the circumstances, you sucked it up. You muddled through the last day of the season or the last day of class or that final game. 

If you hated it… too bad.

If you were miserable… too bad.

If it was too difficult to juggle with your homework load… too bad. 

If what you signed up for was taking a serious toll on your mental health… too bad. 

Those who stuck it out were told not to complain, that it was good for them, that they’d develop resilience and become stronger as a result. Looking back, how we ever reached a point that doing something that was considered mentally tortuous would ever be good for us or make us strong, I don’t know…

The decision to see a season or a class through to the end sounds completely reasonable for a lot of parents considering the high cost of activities, sports equipment, etc. I mean, who can blame a parent for encouraging their child to suck it up ’til the end when they just laid down $400 for their son or daughter to try their hand at golf, which included the purchase of golf clubs, a golf bag, and the necessary clothes, only to find out three weeks later that it’s “just not their thing” and they’d like to throw in the towel. 

But what about the teen who’s invested years of time, energy and money into his/ her sport or passion? What about all the blood, sweat and so many tears that went into becoming profoundly good at what they set their mind to? 

What about all the crack of dawn and late-night practices they had to endure or how many social events they had to decline or all the sacrifices they (and their family) had to make in their lives so they could focus on becoming “the best.”

What about giving it everything you’ve got – not simply for weeks or months, but for years, making it to the Olympics – a dream come true-  and realizing… “I just can’t do this?” What then?

At some point, coaches, athletes, parents, and our society as a whole, have to step back and ask ourselves, “At what cost are we willing to push our kids?” “How far can we push them until they break?” “Is the shiny medal or trophy they might receive at the end of the day truly worth compromising the one the thing we should be protecting at all costs… our kids’ mental health?”

My Personal Story

I remember when my twins (who were barely four years old at the time) loved gymnastics. So, being the dedicated mom I was trying to foster my kids’ interests, I signed them up for a local gymnastics class. It didn’t take me long to realize my girls didn’t view the class as fun or enjoyable – to them, it was sheer torture. 

They retreated, didn’t participate and their anxiety was broaching borderline unhealthy.

They would cling to my legs for dear life in the lobby, barely breathing with tears streaming down their bright red cheeks all while pleading, “Mommy, don’t make us go!”

I could have forced the issue. I could have put my foot down and made them march right back into that class, but I had to step back and ask myself, “Is it worth it?”

Is it worth the loss of money?

Is it worth the struggle and pain?

Is it worth the waste of emotional energy?

Is it worth leaving (quite possibly) an indelible mark on my girls’ hearts that their mom isn’t the protector they thought I was?

After looking in my girls’ eyes and whole-heartedly listening to their pleas, I realized their happiness shouldn’t come at the expense of them having to navigate emotional stress at such a young age, and that’s when we walked away.

They didn’t quit. They walked away. And, they walked away with confidence knowing that I listened, that I supported them, and that I understood their feelings. Isn’t that what our kids need?

Fast forward a few years and my other daughter, who was fifteen at the time, made one of the most difficult decisions she had to face. A decision that has me beaming with pride even now… two years later.

After seven years of intense, six times a week, ballet training, my daughter decided to stop. She and I both realized that although she loved ballet, it was impacting her well-being, both physically and mentally.

She was headed into a tailspin with her mental health declining more with each passing week. And, to be honest, I was becoming increasingly worried that she was headed down a dark hole that wouldn’t be easy to climb out of. 

After years of exhausting effort, being criticized for every little thing she did wrong and body shamed (because let’s face it, the really great ballet dancers have a certain body type), she had to decide if she was willing to let go of her dream of becoming a professional dancer. After many grueling months weighing her options and thinking it through, after far too many long nights lying awake worried how the decision might impact her life, after more than a few mind-racing, heart-pumping anxiety attacks filled with nothing but toxic thoughts… my girl decided to move on. 

She didn’t quit. She moved on. 

She moved away from a toxic environment where her mental health was threatened daily and she chose to become a healthier version of herself. 

She chose to move away from the comments dragging her down. 

She chose to move away from the activity that was causing her emotional pain.

She chose to move away from people who damaged her spirit and made her question her self-worth. 

She moved on… she didn’t quit.

My daughter (and my twins when they were much younger) simply needed their mom to give them the space and freedom to walk away without pressure or guilt – a message of strength I’m proud to pass on to my children.

A Message for Our Children

Let’s pass along to our children a message of hope and support and approval and renewal. A message that recognizes that quitting doesn’t imply not following through or being lazy or having a negative label slapped on your forehead.

A message that shouts from the mountain tops that walking away – even from something you love that you’ve poured years of energy into – doesn’t mean you’re “lesser than,” but rather that you looked deep in your own heart to determine what’s right for you and your life and your mental health.

A message that says, walking away isn’t the “death of a dream,” it’s having the courage to dream beyond and realize the “what ifs,” and give yourself the freedom to launch a beautiful new beginning.

A message that says, walking away or moving on is sometimes one of the most courageous things our kids can do for their mind, their body, and their soul. 


About Ali Flynn:

Ali Flynn is excited to share with you the joys and hardships of motherhood with an open heart, laughter, and some tears. Ali is a monthly guest contributor for Westchester County Moms and has been seen on Filter Free Parents, Grown and Flown, Today Parents, The Mighty, Her View From Home, and His View From Home, where she shares inspirational stories about motherhood while keeping it real. You can also find her on Facebook or Instagram.


If you enjoyed, “When Our Teen Wants to Quit a Sport: “A Lesson From Olympic Athletes,” you might also enjoy reading: 

10 Myths About Teenagers Every Parent Should Stop Believing

6 Powerful Truths Every Parent of Teens NEEDS to Hear

Why Not Join Us?
I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )
Join over 3.000 visitors who are receiving our newsletter and learn how to optimize your blog for search engines, find free traffic, and monetize your website.
RAISING TEENS TODAY is a resource and safe zone for parents to share the joys, challenges, triumphs and frustrations of raising our oh, so imperfect (but totally awesome) teens. PLUS, sign up and you'll receive my FREE e-Book "Scoring Scholarships!"

You may also like

Leave a Comment