This mom was fighting back tears as she was sharing the raw news that she had just received.
“He’s a senior. He has spent the last 6+ years of his life defining himself as a water polo player. Every summer he dedicated himself to playing Olympic Development Program (ODP) and last year he was MVP of the team. It just doesn’t make any sense. The only feedback he got from the coach was that he’s too small. Now what?”
The more she spoke, the greater my heart hurt for her. I could tell that even though she was heartsick for him, she was trying to do right by her son, and had suggested a silver-lining opportunity for him to help ease his pain. She’d softly suggested, “Hey, good news, Adam, now you can focus on college applications.” It was not what he wanted to hear and she knew it, “Thanks, Mom.”
In one day, his life completely shifted. He lost his not only favorite passion, he also had to say goodbye to all the friends that came along with his sport. Now that he was no longer on that team, he wouldn’t be a part of the practices, games and travel, so it wouldn’t be the same hanging out with those boys.
What happens when life forces us to pivot? When the passion we’ve dedicated our hearts and souls to for so long, no longer chooses us? We would each like to decide when we’re done with something, whether it’s a relationship or a job or a sport. But some of the greatest life lessons occur in the abrupt let-down. When the door is slammed in our face, we didn’t expect it, and we’re left stunned and a bit shell-shocked.
This is why sports can be such a great teacher. They are, of course, a wonderful way for our children to learn about teamwork and collaboration, leadership and grit, hard work and victory, but more importantly some of the greatest lessons we’ll learn in sports, as in life, are when it ends and we are forced to pivot.
How do we support our child when he is going through this pain? And, let’s be honest, sometimes our perceived “pain” is just as great as his. We’ve invested in countless hours of driving, watching practices and matches, having given up family vacations along the way, to show commitment to the team and paid countless dollars to help support our son’s dream. And now this is how we’re rewarded?!
As parents we often times conflate our pain with our child’s. While, yes, we’ve made a significant investment of resources into the sport as well, it is not our pain to deal with. It is the lessons her son can learn from this moment which can be a life-altering opportunity, if he chooses to let it be. Some will use it as an excuse to self-soothe with negative rewards, but the more supported athletes will use it as a time to learn from his mistakes, assess what lessons there are to be learned from the experience, evaluate what’s truly important to him and to ultimately pivot to figure out what’s next on the horizon. While our greatest desire is to take away his pain, the biggest gift you can give him in this moment is for him to feel it and learn from it.
How Your Teen Can Pivot after Getting Cut from a Team
1) Allow time to pass: While in the moment this definitely feels life altering, because it is, it’s important to not jump in and try and fix anything immediately. Give your child the time to process what’s happened.
2) Don’t smother, give space: Ask him what he needs in the moment. Without inserting your own opinion, just ask him how he’s feeling. (This is much easier said, than done, so don’t be hard on yourself if you flail a bit here at first). If he needs to be left alone to process, let him be. As long as he is safe, his process will be done according to his timing.
3) Redefine Your Purpose: Once he’s had time to process (for some kids this takes days, for others it can be ok within a few minutes), ask him how you can best support him. “Would you like to brainstorm some other options for senior year? I heard the cross-country team is looking for runners and you used to love to run in middle school.”
4) Set little goals: Maybe he decided he’d like to take a shot a writing a play or starting a podcast. Ask him to do some research and to find someone who’s already done this and follow them and their work. Read or listen to how they’ve done it and start to slowly implement little baby steps towards getting there. If you’re a team sports athlete, find a partner! Collaboration is fun. We are best when we are being creative, so flex this muscle and it will grow.
Some of the most successful people got to where they are as a result of something not going according to plan. Comedian and actor, Will Ferrell, majored in Sports Broadcasting at University of Southern California. He was sure upon graduation, he was bound to be the next Sports Center Anchor. But when ESPN didn’t come calling, he spent the next several years doing odd jobs which included everything from being a bellman to working at a TV news station. It wasn’t until his mother encouraged him to move to Los Angeles from Irvine to follow his comedic passion that he found the comedy acting club, Groundlings, and eventually became a part of the 1995 Saturday Night Live cast.
5) Move Your Body: Just because you didn’t play golf or tennis in middle school, doesn’t mean you can’t pick up a racket or club now. Have a beginner’s mindset and be curious about a sport where you get to grow and learn and have fun!
Is there something you and your son can do together? Perhaps, you’ve always wanted to hike to the summit of the mountain near your home town. Do it together. The training, the preparation and planning you do together for this event will be one you and your son will talk about for years to come.
There is no good time to get cut. Period. It always sucks.
AND, there can be a silver lining, if we choose to look for it.
What’s your story of getting cut? When did the ball stop bouncing
for you? I’d love to hear all about it.