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When is it okay to quit an activity?

Sports, music, clubs, community service and other extracurricular activities will soon become very important in the college admissions process. They paint a picture of who your child is and how they choose to spend their time. Deciding which and how many activities to pursue can be a challenge. Deciding when to quit a particular activity can be fraught with indecision as well.

What do you do when your son or daughter wants to quit something? Do you let them? Or do you force them to stick it out? Consider these factors first:


  1. Financial: This is an easy one. If you've already paid for 6 months of piano lessons, then Little Johnny will complete the 6-month commitment.  You've bought (no pun intended) yourself some time before having to revisit the issue again.
  2. Friendship: This is a bit tougher. If your child joined the swim team "with a friend", tell your child that it's not fair to abandon that friend mid-season. This should be a pretty easy sell and will likely buy you until the end of the season before the issue comes up again.
  3. None: This is the hardest one. If quitting doesn't break any obvious commitments, it might be difficult to convince your child to stick with the activity.


  1. High: If there is a lot of upside to participating in a particular activity, then try your best to keep them involved. For instance, instead of quitting "all sports" after a bad soccer season, suggest that they try a different sport until they find one they like. Given the long list of benefits (e.g. physical activity, teamwork, ego subordination, time-management skills, camaraderie, social interaction, etc.), an extra push to keep them involved in sports may be justified.
  2. Medium: If an activity's upside is only average, then it might not be worth spending your parental capital on convincing them to stick with it. Pick your battles wisely.
  3. Low: If the long-term upside of an activity is low, then it might behoove you to let your child quit. For instance, if your vertically-challenged daughter wants to opt-out of basketball, maybe that's not a bad idea. However, make them work for it. You don't want your child to think that "quitting" is no big deal. Give them some pushback (even if it's artificial).

Why do you want to quit?

  1. No interest. If lack of interest is the real reason your child wants to quit, this is the best reason to let them do so. There are too many other activities to choose from that might actually excite and inspire your child. If they are truly uninterested, they will likely have limited upside anyway. Move on!
  2. No friends. This is harder to justify as a reason to quit. Presumably, friendships will develop over time as they progress in the activity. Try to convince your child that it's beneficial to have different groups of friends. Unfortunately, social dynamics among teenagers can be a powerful force and this might be something that your child can't overcome.
  3. Weak performer. This is the worst reason to quit. Yes, it's tough to perform below your peer group, but that shouldn't be the driving force to quit - especially if your child likes the activity and has friends involved. Explain to your child that over time, there's a good chance that their skills will catch-up - especially if they work at it.

Real-World Example

A close friend of mine, Jeff, recently faced a "should I quit?" scenario with his 8th-grade daughter. When Jeff asked for my advice, I suggested that he use my 3-Step System. He agreed to put it to the test.

Jeff's daughter had been a soccer player for the last 10 years. A few weeks ago, she started playing volleyball for the first time. After her 4th practice, she asked Jeff if she could quit. Jeff asked her why and she told him that she stunk and that everyone was better than she was. She was playing "down" with the 7th-graders and still wasn't keeping up. Jeff then asked her if she thought she would like to play more if she was at least as good as the average girl on the team. She said yes. She also told him that she has many friends on the team. Jeff told her that they'd continue their conversation later (to buy himself some time). Here was his calculus:

  1. Commitment? Yes - financial. Jeff had spent significant money for this 3-month season. This was his primary reason to get her to stick with it.
  2. Upside? Yes - high. Volleyball aligned well with her natural ability, talent, and recent physical changes. After her recent growth spurt (5'9"), she looked more like a volleyball player than a soccer player by a long shot. Jeff and his wife were both collegiate athletes, in basketball and volleyball, respectively (good genes for ball sports on gym floors). Though not "volleyball" strong, she always had good timing and athleticism. In recruiting lingo, she "projected" well.
  3. Why quit? Poor performance. The wrong reason to quit. Jeff would explain to her that she couldn't expect to be as good as others who have a 7-8 year head start. If she could imagine herself liking the game if she were actually good - then she should stick with it.

Later that night they discussed the situation again. She understood that she needed to stick it out for the season given the money that they had already spent. Jeff also planted some seeds about how good she "could be" if she stuck around long enough to improve and catch up to the others. She seemed encouraged.

The jury is still out. She has another few weeks before Jeff finds out if she wants to sign up for another season. From his observations, he says it's about 50/50 that she will not continue. Unfortunately, he thinks she still might "let go" before giving the new sport its due.
"Life is a balance between holding on and letting go."

When things get tough, do we encourage our children to double-down and hold on? Or cut their losses and quit?

We've all heard stories about the little girl who hated piano lessons for years - until she got very good - and eventually grew to love the piano so much that she went to Julliard to study music. She held on.

We've also heard stories about the young boy who was dragged kicking and screaming to the pool every morning at 5:30am for swim practice, only to quit the sport in high school and never swim again. He should have let go.

The next time your child tells you that they want to quit something - buy some time. Then consider the three factors above. Decide whether it's worth it to encourage them to hold on - or whether it's the right time to let go. No easy answers here. Welcome to parenthood.

Prep On,

Author: PrepWell Academy's Founder, Phil Black, has spent a lifetime cracking the code on the world's most competitive programs: Yale University, Harvard Business School, Navy SEALs, Goldman Sachs, Entrepreneurship, Shark Tank, etc.

Inside PrepWell Academy, Black teaches students everything they need to know about the college admissions process in a series of expertly-timed, 3-5-minute, weekly training videos starting in 9th grade and continuing through 12th grade [Note: this program can only be joined in 9th or 10th grade]. My specialties include military service academies, ROTC scholarships, Ivy League, and student-athletes.

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