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When to Quit College Sports

CollegiateParent


Your student athlete has loved playing their favorite sport their whole life. It’s been a source of pride, friendship and growth since they were young.

Sports helped your student athlete develop important skills like leadership and teamwork. And when your student went on to college, they carried their love of sports with them.

But now, one, two or three years into college, your student is over it. They say they want to quit the sport they’ve played their entire life.

Maybe this is the sport that woke you up before the sun for practices and away games. The sport you joined the booster club for, spending your free time fundraising so your student’s team could have the best equipment and a fighting chance against their rivals.

Maybe this sport is something you and your student have bonded over since they were small. Or maybe it’s what’s helping them pay for college with an athletic scholarship.

And now you’re worried about your student giving all that up.

The situation you are in isn’t as unusual as you might think. 15% of college athletes with scholarships quit their sport while in school.

College sports offer so many benefits to your student, including access to a fun and supportive social life, good exercise, a form of stress relief and, for some talented athletes, a way to pay for college.

But college is a time of change. Teens are growing into adults, and learning new things about themselves. Plus, they’re under pressure to excel in class, maybe hold down a job, and focus on preparing for a career after graduation.

The question is, should your student quit or not?

In some cases, a student’s problems with their sport are something they can work through and came out the other side better for it. In others, quitting may be the best (or only) choice. 

To support your college athlete through the process of deciding whether to stay or quit sports, you need to understand why they are considering moving on in the first place.

Some of the most common reasons to quit college sports include:

Schoolwork

This is probably the most common reason for college athletes to quit their sport. The demands of playing sports in college are high, and regularly compete with their academic pursuit.

Most college athletes can’t seriously plan on a career in their sport after college — under 2% end up going pro.

In college sports, students often wake up at 5 or 6 a.m. for training and practice before heading off for a full day of class and homework. There may be more practice later in the day. The sheer exhaustion factor of such a full schedule can be too much for some student athletes.

Away games can mean your student needs to skip classes sometimes, making it even harder to perform well in school.

College coaches are rarely forgiving or willing to let students miss a practice or workout to study for a test. It’s up to your student to figure out how to do it all — and for some, the sacrifice is simply not worth it. For others, it’s just impossible to get good grades and keep up on the field at the same time.

How to Handle It

One possible way your student can keep playing sports and stay on top of their school work is to seek the help of a tutor or study group.

Lack of Time

College sports involve a lot of practices, training and meetings. Not to mention the games and events, both at home and away.

Add it all up, and what was once a fun hobby might be consuming your student’s entire life. Besides barely being able to stay on top of schoolwork, they probably can’t join other clubs, hang out with friends (or make new ones), get a job, become an RA or do anything else outside of their sports bubble.

Many students cite this lack of balance as their reason for quitting. They envy other students’ abilities to try new activities, take their time with homework, or simply relax with their dorm mates.

How to Handle It

A possible solution may be for your student to develop better time management skills:

  • Better time management could solve a lot of your student’s problems
  • Is your student bad at time management?
  • Are there ways they could more effectively plan their days and weeks to lower their stress and help them achieve their academic and athletic goals?

Finances

Sports are often a financial commitment for athletes and their families. Equipment, travel and various fees can add up. This is all on top of paying for school, which we all know is not cheap.

Even college athletes with scholarships can face financial challenges — many receive less than half the total cost of actually going to school.

Your student may be able to get a part-time job, but balancing school and work on top of sports can be difficult. If your family is unable to support your student’s athletic ambitions, the stress of figuring out how to pay for it can be enough to make some just want to give up entirely.

How to Handle It

If money wasn’t a concern, would your student want to stay in sports? If so, consider the following:

  • Removing financial concerns could help your student focus on sports and school
  • Is your family able to help your student pay for school, sports and personal expenses?
  • Is there a way to get more financial aid or raise money to help cover expenses?

Abusive Coaches

Some coaches can be condescending and verbally abusive to players. No matter how hard your student works in practices and in games, they feel constantly disrespected by their coach.

How to Handle It

This type of treatment amounts to emotional abuse, which no one should have to endure. Reporting the coach’s behavior should be considered, but if the culture of the team doesn’t change, your student may have a good reason to quit.

Injuries 

Even seemingly mild injuries can make participating in your student’s sport uncomfortable and difficult. Besides the physical pain of continuing to play after an injury, it’s also just not fun to know you’re unable to play at your peak ability.

In this case, the answer may be to take the time off that’s needed to fully recover.

Depression 

College is stressful for many students. Combine all the pressures of schoolwork, sports and finding yourself in a new place, mix in homesickness, and you’ve got a recipe for college depression.

Depression can lead some students to want to give up everything. It feels like their only path to escape their problems. In reality, they may just need some time off and treatment.

How to Handle It

If your student is suffering from depression, they may need help in the following ways:

  • Seeing a therapist may help your student find guidance through depression and other personal struggles.
  • Professional guidance from someone who isn’t their parent may be just what they need to get clarity on their challenges.

Loss of Passion

College sports are much more serious than high school sports. It becomes a bit more like a professional business.

The demands are high and coaches unforgiving. Some students feel like the way they are treated by teammates and coaches is totally dependent on their athletic performance, making for a shallow social experience.

On top of all that, many athletes will work extremely hard and still get little to no playing time. Actually playing is what makes sports fun.

How to Handle It

When the fun starts to disappear and the demands of school increase, some students just lose their passion for the sport. If it doesn’t make them happy anymore, it may be time for your student to find a new passion.

How to Help Your College Athlete Make a Decision

Now that you understand some of the factors behind why college athletes quit sports, you can bring empathy to conversations with your student about this.

Remember, this is their choice. You may have sacrificed a lot to enable them to reach this level, and you’ve had your own dreams for them, but this decision needs to be about their dreams and what’s best for them.

With that in mind, just because your student says they want to quit doesn’t mean they should.

Hopefully, your student can stay in sports and find fulfillment in doing it. But it’s possible that quitting is the best choice for them

Even if your student decides they do want to quit, they will likely miss their sport and their teammates.

Remind them that they don’t have to stop playing altogether — quitting the team means they can now join an intramural team or play with friends for fun. This can bring them many of the benefits of college sports without the pressures.

If your student does decide to stay in the game and keep playing, remember that your continued support plays an important role in helping them succeed. There are things you can do, even from a distance, to support your student athlete, both on the field and off.

Read our guide on how best to support your college student athlete >

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    Marcy
    Marcy
    6 months ago

    This is a great summary of collegiate athletes who move through the process of leaving their sport. As a therapist at a University, I have worked with many athletes who have experienced this. My only feedback on this subject would be that using the work "quit" with student athletes is not a great word. Quitting is used in athletics as a punishing term and to try to motivate (not sure how the works!) people to do better (e.g, 'don't be a quitter', 'quitters never win', 'quitting is for losers', etc. etc.) When I work with student athletes who are trying to make this important decision I work to avoid using the "Q" word and encourage the same from them. Instead using words like 'leaving', 'stepping back', 'changing directions', 'moving on', 'closing this door', etc., help to alleviate the very heavy burden and guilt that the word quitting brings.

    Tori C
    Tori C
    4 months ago
    Reply to  Marcy

    Love this!

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