Should My Son Quit Football?

I am a father. My sons live with their mother in a small town in the foothills of Tennessee. My eldest son is away with his team at a pre-season camp. Four football practices a day for a week. Let that sink in for a minute. They practice at 05:30, 09:00, 13:00 and 18:00.

He will be a sophomore. He called me tonight in tears and told me he wants to quit football. He had reasons and all that practice wasn’t one of them.

I am a friend. A friend of mine from my hometown in New Jersey has a son who will be a sophomore. My friend wrote me a couple of months ago. My friend was concerned because his son wanted to quit football.

I am a head high school football coach in Massachusetts. Of the 24 kids who ended freshmen year with us and will be sophomores next year, 11 have quit football; most at the end of the school year.

For most football players, moving up from freshmen ball to practicing with the varsity is a big transition. More than anything sophomore year is about paying your dues and taking your lumps from the older kids. Sophomores usually don’t play much other than JV, yet they practice just as hard. In fact practice is usually harder for them because sophomores are not as physically and mentally mature as most of the juniors and seniors they face each day.

Contrary to popular belief kids are not dumb. They see all of this work and little reward. The problem is these guys tend to think short term. They think of immediate gratification and not delayed gratification. They want to quit because they are afraid of the work, the competition and the growing responsibility. Yet, they are not developed enough to realize the benefits of paying ones dues; of putting time and a heck of a lot of effort in with no proportionate reward on their horizon. But their horizon is short sighted.

As a friend and coach, I said my peace. Football, this regimented, grueling, enterprise is worth it. It is invaluable in what it can teach a young man. But those lessons are not immediately apparent. The incredible worthiness of those lessons are only realized later, towards the end of the high school career and then the move on to college, work and family.

A couple of years ago six players were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. During their induction speeches three of those players told stories of how they had quit playing football until some parent or coach talked them out of it. These guys reached the pinnacle of their profession, yet they would have never made it had they quit in high school.

Now I’m very pragmatic. I realize none of these kids, including my own, has more than a sliver of a chance to play on Sundays. I have been coaching 20+ years and have only coached one kid who made it to the pros. But in all that time I have coached I have never once had a kid tell me he regretted playing football. Never once have I had a kid tell me he wished he had quit and done something else; or nothing at all.

In contrast, I have had scores of kids tell me they wish they had stuck with it and not quit.

What happens is people realize it’s not about all that practice, weight lifting, time at camps, time missed with girlfriends, and dealing with teammates and coaches you can’t stand. What they realize is that it’s about the man you become. The man you become as a result of dealing with all that sweat, blood, pain, sacrifice and inconvenience.

Football players get put in so many ridiculously difficult physical, mental, social, and competitive situations that they learn to deal with darn near anything. They come to lose their physical, mental, social, and competitive weaknesses and replace them with character and mental toughness. Guys who don’t quit are stronger people than those who do quit.

I didn’t see this coming with my son. He loves football. He worked hard all spring and summer working out with his teammates. Yet the call came. Here I am a thousand miles away. Yet I had my answers. I had my words. I was prepared to help him thanks to my friend and all those boys who quit my team.

I told my son how I never once pushed him to play football. He could have played soccer. He was the one who decided to play football. I told him how proud I was of him. Proud of the excellent student, excellent citizen, and great son and brother he has become.

I told him I would be proud of him no matter what.

But you bet your ass I told him not to quit. Not because of me but because of him.

I told him to get through the 4th practice of the day and to call me. He pulled himself together and he made it through.

He called me and I told him all of the personal reasons why he should not quit. I tried to help him see what his life would be like without ball. He doesn’t have it easy down there. Football gives him a means to get out of his house.

I told him how football was far and away his best sport ( he plays two others). I told him how he might want to play in college someday and how his teammates would be more like him in college than his current high school teammates. In short, if he plays college ball he would be surrounded by student-athletes and not just guys playing ball.

But more than any other thing, I told him football would teach him things no other sport, except maybe wrestling, ever could. It would teach him how to be tough. I told him he already learns character from the kids in his AP and Honors classes. But he also needed to learn how to be tough.

I told him in order to become all he could be he would need both; character AND mental toughness. I told him I loved him, and I would help him through. But I also reminded him, it’s not about the person you are this moment, it’s about the man you become.

The man you become. That’s the goal to stay focused on. It’s not about the teenage years. No, those years are a means to an end; the man you become.

He has 12 more practices within the next 3 days. He told me he would get through this week. He promised me we would talk Saturday and he would not tell me what I want to hear, but what he really felt.

I love my son. That’s why I will do all I can to make sure he doesn’t quit. Some day he is either gonna thank me or tell me he wished he had listened to me.

This isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve been through this a hundred times, almost twenty times this year alone. I know how this ends.

I want what will help him later in life, so I’ll keep praying for him to find the strength not to quit.

Update:  My son is still playing football.  Football players all have their moments when they want to quit.  They all can readily give a thousand reasons to quit. But when you come to realize that you are a competitor and want to be the best man you can be someday, you press on and do what will make you better, and not what is easy.  I am proud of him.  I am grateful for the ability to keep the focus on what is most important; the man he will  become.

A new class of Pro Football Hall of Famers was inducted yesterday.  As always, I watched the ceremony and listened to what the players and their inductors had to say.  I have done this as long as I can remember.  Each time I am a better man for watching the ceremony as there are always great lessons in character and mental toughness to be learned.  Once again many of the players spoke of the moments when they didn’t want to play football.  Willie Roaf’s dad, Jack Butler’s college roomates, Curtis Martin’s high school coach, pastor and mother, Dermonti Dawson’s coach, all convinced them to play football and/ or stick with it.  These players all recognized that they are better men for the lessons they learned playing the game.

Curtis Martin, in particular gave an incredible speech.  I hope you get to read it.  Here is a link.

Please check out my book “On Character and Mental Toughness” by clicking here.

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About coachbillmoore

Bill Moore is a father, teacher, and coach. He was born in Pittsburgh, grew up in New Jersey, and pursued his undergraduate and graduate degrees in New England. He is a long time resident of the Springfield, Massachusetts area where he met his wife and where all four of his children were born. He has coached football at each of the collegiate levels and has coached basketball, lacrosse and football at the high school level. He authored his book, "On Character and Mental Toughness," prior to his final season as the football coach at Westfield High School. During that final season his team reached the district finals for the third time during his tenure and won awards for sportsmanship at the district and state level.
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14 Responses to Should My Son Quit Football?

  1. Bill, I’ve nominated you for the Very Inspiring Blog Award. See the nomination at http://wp.me/p1TJPv-2m0. Congratulations and thanks for your terrific posts. Dave

  2. Ona says:

    My son quit football. He was an average (or better) JV player. Coach tried to convince him to continue, and called again to play (varsity). He is fast, strong but not heavy. Should he play or use that time to study as junior year is difficult. He is a good student. I assume he will not be playing much but coach needs him for speed (?) and he links my son.

    Will he show disrespect to the coach by not playing? Will playing as an average player help getting into good colleges?

    Thank you for your quick response!

    – Ona

    • Ona,

      Thank you for writing. Here is a previous piece that I wrote on this subject that may give you additional perspective.

      http://coachbillmoore.wordpress.com/2012/06/10/character-mental-toughness-dont-quit-football/

      I can’t really speak for your son’s Coach.

      Personally, I never feel disrespected as a coach or otherwise. Instead, I maintain that when someone does something that would generally be considered disrespectful, their action is a reflection on their character and not mine.

      If your coach thinks like I do, I would say he just wants to see young men fully challenge themselves so they can become the best man they can be.

      I hope this helps.

      -B

      • Ona says:

        Thank you, coach for getting back quickly with good details. The link is also also very helpful. My son mentioned that he wanted to continue because of friendship. Hope he choose to continue after having conversation again with his coach.
        - Ona

  3. Nanette says:

    My son wants to quit football! He is a junior and this is the 2nd week of the season and Coach asked him to help out the JV team and would get more play time; he is embarrassed and feels like he had finally paid his dues and made it to Varsity. He is wanting to quit if he doesn’t get more play time at the upcoming Varsity game..this is his 9th year as a lineman..his coach is not one to give praise or reasons for his decisions..I don’t want him to be a quitter! Nan

  4. Kathy says:

    My son is going through the same tough decision right now in his life and he is in his senior year as Quarterback. He hasn’t missed a practice and always puts in 100%. Friday night was his 3rd game of the season and they played a team that isn’t very good. I believe the coaches felt he should have done better considering the level of his competition. He played very good the first few games and his stats are very good. The coaches continually hang over his head that they are going to pick the starting Quarterback each week. We had two kids transfer from other schools that are backup Quarterbacks and the one gives our son a hard time about competing for the starting position. We as parents feel our son is not treated right by the coaches but we try and keep our opinions to ourselves. Today my son was told the 3rd string Quarterback was going to start and now my son wants to quit the team. He feels the coaches are ruining any chances he has to play college football. I don’t blame him and I didn’t know what to tell him tonight because my feelings are selfish. I don’t enjoy watching my son go through the mental games with the coaches. I feel they need to teach my child and encourage him and lift up his confidence. Instead I see them tearing him down and using the other kids as threats to try and get my son to play perfect. This article really helped me as a parent and realize my feelings really don’t matter this is my son’s decision and I need to support him. I played High School sports but I never had coaches play mental games with me I always knew where I stood on the team. I would have though regreted it if I would have quit. Thank you for your article and opening up my eyes. I do believe it is hard for a coach to teach your child to improve if the parents are speaking against their coaching abilities.

    • Kathy,
      Thank you for your comment and insight. One of the hardest parts of coaching is seeing a kid work hard and not being able to get him more playing time. My solace truly comes from keeping the focus where it should be; it’s about the man he will become. Through his continued effort and courage in dealing with adversity he will be able to draw on these lessons later in life and be a better man for it. Lessons he would have never learned had he not stuck with it. He is also teaching us all about what it means to be selfless and dedicated to the team. I wish you and your son all the best.

      -b

      • Anonymous says:

        Thank you Coach for your reply you have a wonderful website and my son has read through it. He didn’t quit the team and he probably won’t. The game tonight was very hard for us as parents. His coach has decided him and another Quarterback will share time playing. Dylan started tonight and did well. They put the other QB in and made a lot of mistakes which caused the other team to score. Dylan went back in and took the team the team down the field to the 5 yard line and they put the other kid in. Dylan’s stats are good but I as a parent have a hard time with a coach who can’t decide who the main QB is. All I can think is this coach is robbing my son from any chance to be able to play in the next level. Please set me straight. It is hard not to express my feelings to the coach. This was a rival game both teams undefeated. So it was a hard loss tonight. I never dreamed I wouldn’t enjoy watching my child playing sports.
        Thank you for your time
        Kathy

  5. Kamran says:

    i am currently a senior in high school and i am going through the same bull shit on my varsity team. i believe that i am one of the best receivers on the team and my coach doesnt give me any play time. coming into the season i was starting receiver and i missed a day because i was throwing up and now that we have three games left i still have no receptions and barely and play time. i can do anything any of the other receivers can and i can do it better and i still dont play. i have thought about quitting a couple of times but i am more competitive than anyone you know. i will do anything to gain the upper edge. i spend my days off working out and running until 2 oclock in the morning when my mom calls me and asks me to come home and sleep. i dont smoke like other kids on my team because i know it will slow you down, and i do everything my coaches tell me to do, including miss out on field trips. with 3 games left i dont know what to do, ride it out and spend the rest of my weeks working hard in practice and miserable on the bench during games, or just tell my coach that i am not happy with the time i am receiving and stop showing up because he does not recognize my talent. please give me some advice, i have spoken to him about play time, time and time again. He told me straight to my face that i was not going to play because he was happy with the players he has in now. there is not much more i can do communication wise and hard work/effort wise so please tell me what else there is that i can do.

    • Anonymous says:

      My son stopped playing football when he became a junior. He loved football and took whole summer to decide not to play football anymore. He weighed friendship against time and hard work. He does not believe playing varsity is an honor because he is not a recruit (that’s my son, not me). He has not looked back since then, is happy focusing on academics. I still feel sorry that he is not playing but kids tends to adjust fats.

      Kamran, your situation is kind of similar to my son. Moreover, you are in the middle of season. Coach is not expected to change in a few days or weeks. You might consider slowing down (do minimal work out and running) seriously, and focus on academics or something you enjoy. I would then revisit my situation, talk to coach again if that helps, may be skip some days, or quit if nothing helps.

      • Anonymous says:

        Yup it seems everyone is giving me the same answer, skip or quit. I fucking love football sorry for the profanity. My passion is football and my kryptonite is the bench. I’d do anything to get on the field. I have tried different positions, different approaches listening to everything the coaches said in the offseason, it just doesn’t make any sense to me anymore. I’d fight Calvin Johnson for this position, I would get killed but I wouldn’t give up. With only 3 games left and 0 receptions on the season I don’t know what to do anymore.

      • All of the hard work football players put in is too much for ten games a year, but it’s not about that.
        It’s about the character & mental toughness you learn from all the difficult circumstances players find themselves in on a daily basis.
        It’s not about football.
        It’s about the man you become by playing football.
        It’s about the man you become.
        Never lose sight of that. That’s the goal.
        It’s about the man you become.

      • Anonymous says:

        I agree! My son has not quit and a lot of different things have happened throughout the season that he has had to make some tough decisions on. He is going to be a better man because he has stayed on the team and has overcome the adversity thrown at him and he has proved to be a leader over and over again. What my son has learned is to never take responsibility for what a coach thinks of your ability continue to work hard one day that will all pay off. Life is a lot more than Football but what a team environment teaches you is something you can never replace no matter what type of coach you have they are learning too we never quit learning.

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