The beginning of the new school year means that school sports tryouts are just around the corner. And for those interested in acting in the school play or performing with an advanced musical ensemble, there's this in common with the athletes: some will make the cut, and many will not.
At any level, being cut from a team or group of selected individuals hurts. Being young doesn't prevent kids from feeling a pretty sharp sting of rejection if they don't make the team, especially if it's in a sport or activity that they've done well at and really enjoy doing. And sometimes parents can make the process even harder.
Parents ultimately can't control whether their child makes a team or not, but if he or she doesn't, it's up to the parents to try and soften the blow. Parents can yield a lot of influence at this vulnerable point, for better or for worse. They can discourage the young athlete or performer from any further attempts, or they can help them learn to deal with rejection as a part of life that everyone experiences sometimes, and help them bounce back with grace and renewed energy to the next endeavor.
So how can you help your child deal with the rejection of getting cut? Joel H. Fish, PhD, Director at the Center for Sport Psychology, and author of 101 Ways to be a Terrific Sport Parent, offers this helpful advice on how parents can help support and encourage the young athletes in their home.
- Be self-aware parents. Parents need to be aware of their own attitudes towards making the team, and towards winning and losing because inevitably these attitudes will be picked up by their children. Fish cautions, "I believe parents are extremely well intentioned, but parents often have an emotional response to their child not making the team." Parents who display anger or immediately want to challenge the coach's decision are adding an extra dimension to their child's burden. Charles Kuntzleman, author of over fifty books on fitness and health, says that "The most powerful thing is to not display, when they get home, displeasure with what the coach did. Parents have to learn to bite their tongue; it's demoralizing to the team, and a great disservice to the child."
- Give your child a chance to feel. Parents can help their child cope by giving him or her 'permission' to have a normal response. Fish says, "There's a tendency for parents to rush in there and say 'it's ok' – sometimes we need to say to our kids 'that must hurt,' or give them a hug, or not say anything." Parents who respond to their child not making the team by saying "Well, soccer is a stupid sport anyways!" invalidate the hurt their child is feeling as well as dismissing something that may well be very important to him or her.
- Help your child see the big picture. There's much more to being successful in life than simply making a sports team, however important it may seem at the time, and parents can help their children realize this. Fish suggests that, before a tryout, parents make a list together with their child of multiple goals which reflect what the tryout is really about. One of those goals can be making the team, but include others as well, such as having fun, trying your best, being good team mate, and learning something. Says Fish, "When not all the eggs are in the outcome basket, that can be really helpful for a child who doesn't make the team, because he's going in with multiple definitions of what it means to be successful."
Parents can also help kids realize that even though they didn't make it on the team they were hoping for, they have other options. Community or church leagues may offer opportunities to get involved, or maybe a different sport or activity altogether would provide a fun and exciting challenge. Some kids who have been cut from one team have gone on to be very successful in a totally different area. Others who were at one time cut from their high school teams, like basketball great Michael Jordan, have gone on to become outstanding athletes.
Every young athlete or performer who is making the effort to succeed will eventually encounter some stiff obstacles and competition. Parents can help their kids to not only handle these setbacks graciously, but to actually grow from them!