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Getting Cut from the Team

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“Cut from the team.” It’s hard to hear no matter what your age. The idea of being cut, or not making a team is one of the hardest setbacks kids in sports will experience. But, it may also be one of the most beneficial, providing an opportunity for significant learning and growth. As parents we have a valuable vantage point to help our kids in the face of even the toughest disappointments. Some key things that it may help to remember:

We’re Better Because of our Failures

As many of us have come to know, failure is life’s way of helping us become better people. Failure allows us to be more compassionate, empathetic, and kind. It makes it possible to grow and set our sights on new goals. Often we think of failure as a negative experience causing strong emotions: emotional turmoil, guilt, regret, and remorse. Yet researchers have found that the brain grows stronger in the face of failure because it is challenged to develop new pathways and learning. (Moser, et al., 2011). 

Athletes Fail

In perhaps one of the most famous quotes in sports history, Michael Jordan gives us all permission to fail. “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

An athletic failure may mean your child needs to work on developing individual skills. Perhaps they need to have more time to grow into their bodies. Or, they may learn as they approach later adolescence, which sports they can best compete at and where they may want to play just for fun.

Regardless of where your child falls in the spectrum of reasons for being cut, you have the opportunity to support your child in the challenge of getting up after being knocked down. And when your child discovers his toughness and resilience, his “failure” actually provides a tremendous boost in his ability to grow and progress.

Focus on the Lessons

When you normalize your child’s failures, you are shifting the focus to what was learned instead of the feeling of being setback. This is what psychologists often try to emphasize with parents who struggle to endure the academic, social and athletic failures of their children. Providing empathy by sharing a story of your own failures and how you grew from them can help.  In addition, model a sense of calmness and resolve that inspires confidence in your kids’ ability to learn – a mindset that influences future endeavors and a willingness to take healthy risks as they grow up.

Discuss a Response Plan

Often in the face of failure, we feel like giving up. Some children may feel like quitting their sport after getting cut from a team, or quitting sports in general. This again is where parent support can be critical. Questions like “what do you want to do now?” can help provide a path to a course of action that involves learning and identifying ways to improve. Next steps might include practicing more, finding mentors or others who can support their efforts.

Get Feedback

Assembling a youth sports team is not always easy and it requires tough decision making on behalf of coaches who have the challenge of creating a team that balances winning with giving kids at younger age a chance.  And while the job is tough, it is okay to approach the coach and ask for feedback. If your child is 13 years old or older this may be a time to encourage them to speak to the coach on their own. For younger children, a parent check-in with the coach may be more appropriate.  Key things you can ask:

Is this the right level of play for my child?

What skills do they need to work on in order to make this team next time? Or,

Do you have suggestions on other things that would help?

Changing Course is Okay

After getting cut from a team, a child may choose to move in a different direction. If they choose to pick a different sport, this may be okay because they are still choosing to be an active participant in some organized physical activity. Particularly when our children grow older and enter high school, getting cut from a team is normal. This is an age when our kids begin to realize their strengths and weaknesses. If your son gets cut from the basketball team and chooses to try swimming because he thinks it is a better fit, this is another form of learning. He is not giving up. He is exploring where his strengths and perhaps interests fit best.

So, if your child doesn’t make a team, or starting line-up this year, you have the opportunity to help them through it. Empathize, focus on the effort and learning and get feedback that can help direct their next steps.  A child’s ability to understand that they can learn and bounce back from events like this, rather than define themselves by them, is key to their overall growth as a person. 

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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.