Trying out for a roster spot on a team can be an extremely stressful situation for young athletes.
If your child is trying out for a sports team, here some tips for parents on how to prepare your child for the try-out from an emotional and psychological standpoint:
- Emphasize that winning a spot on the team will only happen if she tries her hardest and put forward maximum effort, and stress that she will not be evaluated on talent alone;
- Prepare her for the possibility that she won't make the team.
- Encourage her to be realistic about her chances.
- Find the balance between optimism and pessimism. Being overly optimistic puts extra pressure on kids to make the team; being too pessimistic about her chances will discourage her from trying her best.
If your child doesn't make the team, it helps to understand just how upsetting and traumatic it can be for your child. For many, being cut represents an assault on their self-esteem, and their first exposure to rejection. They feel the pain and embarrassment of being rejected, excluded from an activity in which they want to participate, and denied the important social connection sports allow athletes to make with their peers.
If your child doesn't make the team, here are some parenting tips:
- Avoid an immediate overreaction. While you may not be happy with the outcome, let her know that you are happy she did her best.
- Offer unconditional love, support and empathy, and above all, practice active listening. Listen to the pain she is experiencing. Listen to the disappointment she is feeling. Listen to the anger she may be feeling toward the coach or the team selection process. Listen to what she thinks was unfair about the process.
- Non-verbal communication is a great way to show you are sad and that there may be no appropriate words.
- Validate her feelings, don't play them down. Let her vent and have her feeling heard; give her a chance to share her pain and disappointment.
- Don't paint her as the victim - it will only make her more disappointed. Explain how coaches typically pick a team; that there are usually a couple of players who are obvious and easy picks, one way or other, and the rest are somewhere in the middle. Ask her whether she could honestly say she was one of the best players. She will most likely admit that she fell into the middle group, where the selection process becomes much more difficult.
- Develop a game plan for the future: Some children will be motivated by being cut to redouble their efforts to improve so they make the team next year. If so, volunteer to work with her to get better (don't push; her motivation has to come from within).
- Suggest another sport or activity. Be aware that your child may view being cut as the end of the road for her participation in a particular sport. She may recognize that she doesn't have the skill to play the sport at the next level. If you agree, you should suggest that she try another sport: This is especially good advice for children under twelve. They should be experimenting with a number of sports before settling on one in which to specialize (or finding some activity they can enjoy and feel passionate about).
- Consider talking with the coach in a non-confrontational way to find out why your child was not selected and what she needs to improve to make the team next year.
Brooke de Lench is Founding Executive Director of MomsTEAM Institute, founder of MomsTEAM.com, producer of The Smartest Team: Making High School Football Safer (PBS), and the author of Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports (HarperCollins 2006). You can follow Brooke on Twitter @brookedelench.