It is that time of year again…come to think of it, it’s always the time of year for try-outs. We are a sports saturated society, and regardless of what your child may be trying out for, there is always a chance that they may not make the team. When I was cut from basketball in 7thgrade I understood that to mean I could never play that sport again. I wish I could have had someone guide me through that failure and help me understand it in a way that would have helped me move forward. My hope is that this article will be an insightful guide for you if and when your children do not make the team.
A lot of people will tell you failure is a good and necessary learning experience. While that may be true, the bottom line is that failing to make a team really stinks. One of our roles as parents is to walk our kids through the process of losing so that they can move forward into the areas in which they are more gifted. Here are a few tips and thoughts to help you, as you help them.
It is okay to not be great at everything. In fact, it is a reality of life to not excel at every attempted sport or subject. We live in a culture that idolizes athletes who play multiple sports, maintain a 4.0 GPA, and serve in their community or church. This is great for some, but it is the exception and not the rule. For most of us, we will probably only be good at a few things, and that is okay. If your child fails to make a team, be open to helping them figure out what they are good at, rather than trying to force a round peg into a square hole.
Help them grieve. When you lose something, you grieve the loss of it. Especially losing something you desire to be a part of, like being on a sports team. For starters, help your child figure out what they really lost. Often, it is not actually playing the sport but rather the reputation, the time spent with friends, the competition or status that come from playing the sport. Then help them feel and move through their grief (denial, anger, sadness, and bargaining) by validating their emotions. Saying things like, ‘I know you really wanted to make the team. You must feel pretty bummed/lousy/sad/embarrassed/frustrated not to have made it’, helps them put into words what otherwise feels jumbled and confusing.
Teach acceptance over blaming. Help them identify their part: What could they have done differently? What do they need to work on if they want to make it next time? Rather than blaming the coach, the competition, the ball size, etc., help them form an email or a conversation that asks for honest feedback from the one who cut them. Think of it like a job interview, how do you go about preparing them for the next one? At the same time, be careful to not blame or shame your child’s character or potential in this process.
Root their worth in identity rather than success. When our kids ‘fail’ we have a great opportunity to show them that they have worth and value apart from how well they perform. This type of confidence does not depend on goals scored or games won, but rather on your child as a person. What gives them worth? Emphasize this, rather than trying to build up a shaky confidence rooted in performance.
Work with their fears. You would think that the natural response to seeing friends make a team would be ‘If they can make it then so can I’. However, competition filters this into ‘They will succeed instead of me’, as if there is only so much room for success. At the bottom of this is fear. Are they afraid, as I was, that they could never play that sport again? Maybe they fear they do not have the talent, luck, likability, fortune, friends, or strength to try again. Help them identify their fears, and then help them sift through what is rational and irrational.
Deal with your own junk. Often when our kids fail, it is our own fears, past hurts, or resentments that upset us the most. It is important that you do your own grieving and work through your own expectations, so that you do not dump them on your child.
Luckily, my story does not end with getting cut from the basketball team in 7th grade. I was fortunate to have parents who encouraged my natural gifts in music and art, which helped pay my college tuition. It is very often that in the midst of failure, our true gifts surface.