Nurturing perseverance and commitment

I am a high school teacher and coach. I am recently seeing a trend among my student athletes of quitting sports half way through the season.  When I approach their parents I get the response "they make their own decision." This deeply concerns me. Do you have any advice?

- Matt, California

Dear Matt, 

I share your concern about the growing trend of many kids to renege on their commitments. We all want our kids to develop persistence, loyalty, commitment and dedication. These traits, however, do not just materialize. They are developed. We have a responsibility as parents, teachers and coaches to foster them in our kids. Letting kids renege on commitments without a compelling reason does not develop the character trait which they will need later in life.

The key factor to keep in mind is, of course, the reason they want to quit. That's why I don't think we can make a blanket statement. Some reasons could be legitimate. For example, a student might want to quit a club, team or activity because the time commitment is having seriously negative effects on their health or school work.  These are very different reasons than losing interest, boredom or wanting to quit because a more attractive option presents itself.  In other cases, the activity might make a child anxious, afraid of failure, or he or she may want to avoid conflict. This presents an important opportunity to talk about these feelings with our kids and to ensure they have the tools to practice handling these challenges instead of avoiding them.

So some parental judgement is called for, and the key question should be "What's best for our children?" not just "What do our children want to do?"

Here are some suggestions.

  1. Have a conversation with your children before they  join teams, clubs or activities. Make sure they understand the time needed and the  importance of commitment.
  2. If your child wants to quit, stress the responsibility to the other team members involved and the importance of persistence and loyalty. 
  3. Listen to your child's reason to determine if it's legitimate. If there is not an overriding reason then we parents should insist that the commitment be fulfilled.