With school starting and high school sports revving up, many teens have already felt the pressure of fall sports tryouts. The ups and downs of tryouts can take a toll on our teens who have also prepared themselves for back to school homework, first few weeks jitters and friend reunions.
While it may be almost impossible to diminish this unavoidable pressure your teen feels around high school sports, there are ways to help ease the process, especially when disappointment sets in. Here are some very real questions your teen may be wrestling with when high school sports does not turn out as they had hoped.
What if I don’t make varsity?
Managing expectations may be the first key to helping your teen. While making the varsity team as a freshman or sophomore can feel elating, it is not the norm. Knowing this in advanced can help ease the disappointment when your teen’s name is not on the varsity list. Remind your teen, all hope is not lost. Players can be brought up mid-season due to injuries or outstanding playing on a freshman or JV team.
Even so, there are benefits to not making Varsity team. Encourage your teen to play freshman or even JV as a great way of having more playing time, while improving their skills. Freshman and JV teams can be less intense, and therefore more fun. In a world where your teen has an abundance of pressure for academic success, a less stressful team can be a wonderful break for your teen. Remind your teen that while making a varsity team may have its bragging rights, upper classman almost always have an edge when it comes to strength, speed and experience which equates to play time.
What if I don’t make any team?
If you teen does not make the team as a sophomore or junior, encourage her to seek out other extracurricular activities at school. There is life beyond sports, and she may indeed discover a brand new world of clubs and service work. According to Judith Silver, a teacher at Ridgefield High School in Connecticut, “Not making a team is, without a doubt, a crushing experience, but it’s also a time to look for new opportunities to explore.
The high school where I teach offers clubs ranging from “Club Comfort,” a club that works with therapy dogs to “Turning Pages,” a club that supports literacy in less advantaged schools through book drives and other programs. High schools need to put as much “prestige” in their service groups as they do in their athletic programs.”
What if I make the team but do not get any playing time? Can mom or dad call the coach?
For those teens that make the team, but wind up with little playing time, discouragement can weigh heavily upon their heart and self-worth. If they believe they have not been given a fair shake and feel they are able to compete at a higher level, encourage them to meet with the coach and express their concerns.
Getting involved as a parent does not help your teen. As much as you want to pick up that phone or send that email, allow your teen to speak up for himself. It is a life lesson that will go much further than your intervening.
Should I quit if I am not playing enough?
While no athlete who has been playing for three years will be cut from the varsity team senior year, many will see little time on the field. For those who had been playing on JV, this can feel even harder, perhaps discouraging enough for your teen to want to quit.
Encourage your teen to resist the urge to quit. While sitting the bench is no fun, colleges do want to see consistency. Unless an injury takes them out of the game and off the team, quitting can be viewed as a negative on a college application. It also may set them up for a pattern later on in life – to quit when life gets uncomfortable. Help your child see the big picture. While they may not be able to look beyond the moment, there is life after high school sports. Reminding your teen of all they do away from the field, and what they will experience in college may help put things in perspective.
Why do I feel like I am not part of the team?
Sitting on the bench causes many teens to feel like they are not part of the team, overshadowing the benefits of competition and teamwork. Encourage your teen to become involved in an activity outside of sports -a town event or fundraiser. This may offset his feeling that he is an outsider on his sports team. Helping the coach with other tasks, such as keeping stats or organizing team events, may ease this feeling as well.
How do I manage these feelings of overall disappointment of not playing enough?
Support your teen by listening to her feelings while allowing her to vent without trying to fix the problem. Reframing the situation can help as well. When faced with adversity, looking for how this may be helping in the long run can help ease short-term disappointment. Later on in life, your teen may face this exact situation in a work experience. Competing for a job among hundreds of other qualified applicants, can feel like sports tryouts.
They will have already learned the invaluable lessons on how to overcome a difficult situation, knowing they can persevere, and survive regardless of the outcome. Adversity is not a bad experience to go through in life. While we don’t, as parents like to see our kids suffer, a certain amount is not only inevitable, but also helpful. Not getting what we want teaches perseverance, humility and builds compassion. When your teen returns home from a game feeling deflated, grab those lemons and make lemonade, together. Learning to look on the bright side of a difficult situation is a wonderful life lesson.
Lastly, humor can help any situation. While sitting the bench may not be ideal, my daughter and I used to joke about her role as a bench warmer. When she texted me that she indeed scored a goal, my response was, “From the bench? That must have been quite a goal.”
We cannot take away our teens disappointments, but we can love our children unconditionally. This is what they ultimately need to get through any adversity. What may be initially seen disappointment can be a blessing in disguise, a life lesson for all.