Baseball was the activity that most defined me as a teenager and young adult, and I nearly quit it before I’d barely started. I was 10. I couldn’t hit, catch, or throw, and the springtime games in Colorado meant a lot of standing around in the cold doing nothing interesting before getting yelled at by the coach for doing the same.
I told my parents I didn’t want to play anymore. They wouldn’t let me quit. At least not easily. Baseball was a huge thing for my dad growing up, and, with my older brother showing zero interest, I was his last chance to have a baseball player in the family. But more than that, I think my parents didn’t like the idea of letting their kid just quit. So they said I could quit but that they would be . . . wait for it . . . very disappointed.
I didn’t quit. And after a few more months I got the hang of it and shortly came to love it. For the next 10 years it was the activity I privileged over almost everything else in life.
I’m thinking about almost quitting baseball because my seven year-old wants to quit ballet and I’m not letting her. I should say she wants to quit ballet again. A few weeks before the end of the term last spring she grew tired of it, and I let her stop going. But after a ballet-free summer, she pleaded with her mom and I to start up again this fall. We gladly complied. Now, four weeks in, she wants to quit again.
We already paid for the whole season, so she’s not quitting. But also, I feel that same my-kids-not-gonna-be-a-quitter thing happening that must have been happening for my parents nearly 30 years ago now, but I don’t know if that’s that good or bad for my kid.
I’ve heard people advocating for allowing kids to try out lots of different activities and quit if they don’t like them. That helps, they say, develop a sense of what you’re interested in for its own sake and not for the sake of pleasing parents. My kid has a lot of freedom to try things out. On top of ballet, she’s done science camps, gymnastics, tap dance, music lessons–practically everything she’s ever expressed interest in. But I always smart a bit when she quits.
Yesterday, talking with a group of 12th graders, I found myself urging one of them to quit football. He hates it. He tried to quit a week ago, but the coach twisted his arm so that he stayed on the team. This week he’s been miserable, and he quit going to practice by Wednesday.
“You clearly don’t enjoy it,” I told him. “It looks to me like, emotionally at least, you’ve already quit. So just tell the coach you’re not playing anymore.” I go on to relate how, after 10 years of loving playing baseball, I quit loving it at the end of my sophomore year of college and quit. I actually phoned the coach an hour before our last game and told him I wasn’t coming. And that was that.
The 12th grader said I was right–he doesn’t enjoy it–and that he’s definitely quitting.
Did I just turn a teenager into a quitter? Why do I feel good about that?