This week I received an email from a concerned parent, seeking a little counsel….
My second son has been on the top team (of four) on our neighborhood’s travel soccer team. We just got word last night following three days of tryouts that he has been offered a spot on the second team for next year. Am trying to play it cool and be the moderated parent, but am having to check all kinds of emotions (from “why the hell do we do this at age 10” to “really, he starts for the top team for 2 years and now he’s on the second team” to “who the F cares?” to “my kid’s the best and I might pummel you”).
I feel your pain. It sucks. It hurts. I’ve been there. And, it’s hard to know how to set your emotional reaction aside and do what’s best for your kid.
But here’s the deal. Because of the ever-growing focus to start playing travel and club sports at younger and younger ages, and because (you pick your motivation) “we don’t want our kid to be left out”, “fall behind”, “not make his middle school team” this has become an ever increasing issue. What ever happened to rec sports until high school?
Instead of just being able to focus on the three things which truly matter in the 4-12 age range, I like to call them, in order of importance,”The Three F’s”:Fun, Friends and Fundamentals,” we, and our kids, are quickly pivoted to issues which truly don’t matter in the long run, such as:
- Which level team my 10 year old should play on?
- If he plays on a lower level team, what will that do for his chances of playing at a higher level down the road?
- What will it do to his self-confidence (and my own!)?
- What about his friends? They are all on that top team, this won’t be any fun without them.
So what are we parents to do? Please consider the following:
Let your kid drive the process. If he is up at bag packed, itching to get to the soccer field and dying to try out the new move he learned in the backyard last night with his friends, this is a sign of an internally motivated kid, and one who, even if he doesn’t make the top team this season, will have the opportunity down the line, if he takes this moment to:
1). Be curious. And ask good questions (of himself first- with your help):
- I wonder why I didn’t make the top team this year?
- What skills/gaps in my ability are there which I need to improve upon which will make me a candidate for the top team again in the future?
- What feedback should I ask for so I can improve my chances going forward?
And if he doesn’t know the answer, that’s ok! It’s a great place to start, which leads to the second step.
2). Have your kid set up a meeting with the the coach for a 1:1. This will show that a) he’s open for feedback and b) that he truly wants to get better. This is to be driven by your child, not you. If he is nervous about speaking directly with the coach, you can offer to be there, but tell him “I’m going to let you do all the talking, let’s practice what you’d like to ask.”
3). Your role as the parent? To support him. Ask him how he feels about the news that he didn’t make it. DO NOT insert your opinions here. Just swallow your hurt and sadness for a moment, take a deep breath and ask him what he thinks of his position on his new team. You may be surprised to hear that while he’s a bit disappointed, he is actually relieved (less pressure) or excited (a different friend he gets to be with). Don’t assume it’s all bad news.
This same parent handled it beautifully….
“When I told him the news I just sat with him while he cried. And when he came home from school I asked about a lot of other things, and then I asked him about how he was feeling. I intentionally wanted to leave space for him to speak and not be led by my reactions, my reflections, and how I wanted him to process this issue.
As I listened to how he was processing this issue, I tried to create space for him to give me feedback. I realize now that if I had spoken more than I had listened, if I had directed the conversation so he processed it how I want him to process it, I would have missed an opportunity to understand my kid better.
I would have missed an opportunity to both see how well he does deal with challenges and to identify how I can help him in those areas where he is still lacking. I would have missed the opportunity to applaud the best of his resilience and instincts, and help him in those areas where he still needs help.
It doesn’t remove my desire to micromanage everything and to control the world around him, but it allows me to look at my job as understanding and knowing him first, and deciding how to help him a distant second.”
So well said. It doesn’t mean we’re always going to like the outcome, but there is no better time than the present to allow your kid to learn how to deal with set-backs and disappointment. You are actually giving him the gift of filling his own bucket. And once he realizes he has 100% control over how much or little he fills his own bucket, it’s priceless tool he will use for the rest of his life!
If you are raising an athlete, I’m guessing at one time or another, your kid hasn’t make the top team or didn’t get the playing time you felt he deserved.
I know we’ve been there with all three of our kids and it’s hard to watch and go through, but it’s also challenged us to “up our game” and has made our kids more resilient and independent people and hopefully, it’s made us better parents.