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When You’re Afraid Your Child Won’t Make the Team

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Team of happy female soccer players celebrating their achievement on a playing field at sunset.

Question:

My son, age 10, really enjoys playing baseball — he’s great at seeing the whole field, knowing where the play is, and encouraging his teammates. But, he’s young for his grade and I’m afraid he is lacking a bit in the skills department.  Baseball season is coming up, and I’m eager for him to play, but I’m worried he won’t make the team. Next year he’ll be entering middle school so building confidence is a big focus right now. I feel like making the baseball team will help him build confidence and make friends. So my question is, what should I do, outside of running drills with him as often as he’ll let me? Should I call the coach and make a personal plea?  

Answer:

I think we can all relate to your question. It taps into our universal concern about our children’s self-esteem, particularly when they transition from one stage of life to another. Many of us recall how difficult starting 6th  grade can be. At times, kids are really hard on each other. One moment you have friends, the next you are excluded from a sleepover. It is important for us to remember as parents that we can’t always protect our kids from these awkward and challenging times. While we want to put them in the best position to succeed socially, athletically and academically, some adversities are inevitable and in fact even healthy as they learn to be resilient in the face of setbacks.

But it sounds like because your son is young and new to this situation that you really want to support him and you worry that a setback could be hard for him to manage. And you want him to develop a key component of adolescence, which is a sense of competence so he has the confidence to make friends and feel comfortable in school.

One thought is that you might talk this over with your son. “I know baseball is your first choice. If this doesn’t work out, what other sports would you be willing to play?” I realize this might imply to your son that he will fall, yet if raised in a matter of fact way, it sends the message that being a part of a team is the end goal. You could also say, “I hear the baseball team is really hard to make. Do you want to any extra practicing or playing to get ready?”

Of course, you could call the coach and make a plea, but often this is a complicated and can backfire. Reaching out to other parents in the program and asking them more about the coach, the league philosophy, and the level of competitiveness might also give you a sense of what your son is entering. I have found that some of my fears as a parent are quelled by what I learn about the coach and program in advance. And if I don’t like what I learn, I might consider other options. In the end, for middle school kids, we want to introduce them to situations where they can make and develop their friendships. So a good plan B is always looking for programs where most of his friends play. And if he fails to make the team, giving him a chance to express his frustration and disappointment in the context of contemplating his next steps will be a critical role for you to play. You can model a calm resolve in the face of a normal life challenge. We feel it and do our best to move forward.

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Dr. Richard Ginsburg
Dr. Richard D. Ginsburg is a clinical psychologist and sport psychology consultant. He is co-director of the Massachusetts General Hospital PACES Institute of Sport Psychology and is an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Ginsburg also serves as staff psychologist in the Newton Wellesley Hospital Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Department and is the director of Behavioral Health for the Boston Red Sox. Dr. Ginsburg offers a broad range of clinical services to children, adolescents and adults and conducts youth and professional sport research. He is author of the book, Whose Game Is It, Anyway, A guide to helping your child get the most from sports, organized by age and stage and has served as a sport psychology consultant for a variety of professional and college-level sports teams, including lacrosse, soccer, water polo and ice hockey at Harvard University. He is a member of the US Lacrosse Safety and Science Committee and provides talks and consultations nationally to youth, high school, and collegiate athletic programs. Dr. Ginsburg played lacrosse and soccer at Kenyon College, where he won all-conference and all-Midwest honors. He is also a former independent school teacher and coach. He lives with his wife, Teri, and their two children in Newton, Massachusetts.

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