Anyone who has ever tried out for a team knows what it's like on list day, that day when the coach posts a list on a board or, more likely these days, online. As all eyes race up and down the names searching for their own, life can change in an instant. Now as parents, you are obviously not looking for your own name and you are not the one who will make the team, but you will feel the same joy, or despair if your child's name is not on the list.
Mike Robinson who runs a sports training program called In The Paint Basketball feels your pain. "I can remember when I was young, the day following basketball tryouts, and how the list was posted by the coach’s office," Robinson says. "The nervousness and anxiety were palpable for my friends and classmates. As we huddled around his door, the range of emotions was quite intense. Some kids jumped up and down, some walked away sad, while others laughed, teased and mocked the ones who got cut."
Even being one of the "lucky ones," Robinson says that he still remembers feeling empathy for the kids who didn't make the team. "None of them ever spoke about the rejection they must have felt that day, but I knew it had to hurt. Many of them never even tried out again and some even withdrew from the sport entirely. I always wondered how much that affected them."
Today Robinson knows the answer. He sees a lot of these kids in his basketball program after they are cut from the team.
"Our program works primarily with this population, and I kept hearing these rather despondent stories from parents about how the impact of 'getting cut' affected their children and the harm it caused to the children’s self-esteem, well beyond the basketball court. My coaches and I often find ourselves consoling, encouraging and counseling these kids about not giving up on the sport, about reclaiming their confidence. We should be asking, 'How is it impacting their self-esteem in the classroom?' We should be considering the relationship between children’s experiences at home, in academics and team sports because how we treat children in all those spaces impacts them later in adult life."
Robinson says how the family approaches a team rejection can make a big difference when it comes to turning a devastating rejection into a learning experience. Ultimately, if one day your child does find him or herself cut from a team, Robinson has these useful tips to help him, and you, get through it like a pro.
Your first job is to listen. Let your child express his or her emotions, even if it's crying, ranting, or retreating to another room out of frustration. Offer a hug or any other physical show of support that is acceptable.
At some point, your child will be ready to listen to you, and when he or she makes this turn toward you, if at all possible drop everything and grab that moment. When we say "ready to listen," that does not mean ready for a lecture. It means ready for you to support your child in thinking through the situation. Ask questions about what he or she would like to do about it, and brainstorm possible solutions with your child.
Don’t forget to be ready with a backup plan. If your child wants to continue to play the sport, look for ways to make that happen. It may not be playing for the first-choice team, but at least he or she can still play the sport somewhere. This can also help the child improve the skills that kept him or her off the team to provide a better shot for next season.
Sometimes going in a totally different direction with a new sport can also provide your child with new opportunities and possibly even greater success. Many kids shift their energy into completely different sports and go on to develop new skills, self-confidence and, most of all, have fun!
Whatever the plan, sit down and create the steps that the child and the whole family need to take to make it a reality. Brainstorm steps for the child to take, and have the child come up with steps for how the rest of the family can help.