Growing out of it: What happens when a child gives up their sport?

If your child shows every sign of being gifted at a particular sport, what happens when they suddenly lose interest? How do parents deal with the disappointment? Do they give support without question or try to persuade a child to stick at it?

We asked parents for their thoughts and tips, and spoke to one grown up who gave up his childhood sport when he was one of the best in the country.

Back in the 90s, when David* was just a boy, he became one of the youngest people to gain a black belt. By 12 he was one of the top competitors in the country, winning numerous prizes for his displays of kata karate.

But as soon as David reached 16, he dropped martial arts. "I wanted to be in a band, but I was training three nights a week." David was more interested in girls and drinking. "I had a six-pack, which the girls liked! It's long-gone now, sadly!"

He fell in love, got into recreational drugs and generally enjoyed his late teens.

How did his parents feel? "I really only started it because my dad was into it. He was really supportive, always there at every event cheering me on. But I just felt bored of it. He was really gutted when I dropped it. I think he couldn't believe I could just give it up totally without looking back. I felt like I'd given him enough and it was my turn to do what I wanted."

Now in his 30s does David regret giving up the sport?

"I didn't really achieve much in my 20s. I didn't go to uni, I spent a lot of time sleeping on friends' sofas. I got jobs picking tulips in Holland and started a lot of bands. I think when I let go of the training, I went the other way completely – not sticking at anything or working hard. I still don't miss the sport itself, but I miss feeling that focused. And I'd quite like the six-pack back!"

[Related feature: Tips to support your child's future]

David's real passion continues to be music. He now works as a music producer and enjoys playing in his own band.

So how do you keep a child interested in sport (or in music or any other activity)?

"Pushy parents aren't going to achieve anything", says Sarah B, mother of three. "being dedicated takes a lot of commitment and sacrifice and that's a lot to ask of a small person who hasn't worked out who they want to be yet. Not many parents are so committed to one thing, so why do we expect our children to be?"

Linda P agrees. "It's no surprise children change their minds about what they love doing. Their friends, their teachers, their personality will all develop and change, and something that made them happy last year may be boring the next." She suggests not worrying too much "if they're constantly wanting to change musical instruments or beg to have dance lessons only to quit a month later, that's different."

But being firm does have its place. Mother-of-two Helen S still gets annoyed when she thinks about the summer football club she paid for in advance. "After pestering me to sign him up my son changed his mind on the start day and refused to go. He'd discovered computer games." Later, when he decided he wanted to try archery, she took him to the club every week "he went for about six months, I bought him all the kit he needed and just when he started to win competitions, he decided he couldn't be bothered any more."

Helen had been really firm with her daughter before him "she played violin from a young age and did tap and ballet classes. She did cricket on the weekends. I wouldn't let her give anything up until she'd done it for long enough to show she'd given it a chance."

She admits she spoiled her son and wishes she'd capped his gaming time and made him stcik at things a little longer, "I don't think you should make kids do something they don't love, but I don't think quitting before you've tried something properly is always the answer." Her son now plays the guitar in a band, so she's happy he's found something he can stick at "even if it's not particularly energetic!"

And what does David suggest? "I worked really hard for a long time. I reached a really high standard, but ultimately it wasn't for me. You need to speak to your child and make sure you're not signing them up for something they're only doing to make you happy. And if they give it up a few years, that's actually a pretty long time in childhood years".

*Names have been changed

At the heart of Team Mum is the video series Raising an Olympian, sponsored by Proctor and Gamble, profiling athletes from across the world, their dedicated efforts to make it to Olympic Games, and the mothers who had tremendous impacts on their lives. Watch the videos on Yahoo! Lifestyle Team Mum.

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