Easing the pain when they don’t make the cut

Oh, that varsity letter! Teens proudly adorn their team jackets with them. It brings with it prestige and notoriety. However, many teens — who enjoyed playing a sport throughout their childhood — don’t make the varsity team. This doesn’t have to be the end of their sports career, though. All a teen needs is the passion to play and the will to remain involved.

Dealing with the disappointment

Being cut from the team can be devastating to a teen’s self-esteem. Parents and coaches can help soften the blow.

“Helping a teen handle being cut from a team ideally starts years earlier,” says Jan Drucker, PhD, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Sarah Lawrence College. She believes it’s imperative to have the right attitude from the start. “A parent who supports participation in sports, but does not push her child and get overly excited about wins, will set the stage for less excruciating bad feelings much later when there is failure.”

She says parents can help their teens put this failure in perspective.

“Supportive parenting means empathizing with your teen’s feelings while leaving your own feelings of disappointment or anger aside,” says Drucker. “It isn’t helpful to reinforce feelings of failure or to be Pollyanna-ish in dismissing the disappointment.”

She suggests that parents facilitate a positive conversation about the experience. Ask your teen what he feels he has accomplished in the process, and what he enjoyed about trying out.

Steve Ettinger, a fitness expert, soccer coach, and author of “Wallie Exercises,” knows how much being cut affects an athlete’s self-esteem.

“Tryouts are a very tricky and sensitive time of year for coaches, parents and athletes,” he says. “When a teen doesn’t make the team, he will inevitably feel any combination of hurt, disappointment and anger. There are several factors the coach should take into account to make the process better for everyone. These might include keeping results anonymous, giving everyone equal time to prove their worth, and suggesting alternatives for athletes who might not make the team.”

Moving forward

So your teen didn’t make the team. What’s next? Teen athletes need to experience their frustration or anger, find acceptance, and move forward.

If she wants to stay involved in the sport, perhaps a club team or another athletic organization, such as a Catholic Youth Organization, will do.

“If they’re serious about continuing with the sport, the best option is to ask about a practice team,” says Ettinger. “The athletes will get the same training, and their dedication and perseverance will show the coach that they’re a great fit if a spot opens up.”

Also, some sports, such as gymnastics and diving, offer the option of teams putting up exhibition athletes. This is a great choice for athletes who want to improve and try out again.

Athletes can also try something new. They can use the skills they’ve acquired from one sport and transfer them to another. Football players who don’t have the size for the football field might try wrestling or lacrosse. Some sports provide individual competition without team cuts, such as biking or martial arts.

If she no longer wants to compete, a team management position might be an option for your teen. Assisting as a score keeper or judge’s helper can be a stepping stone for a coaching or officiating job in the future.

Tips and tales from coaches

“The best athletes are not always the best coaches. If you have a passion for a sport, staying involved and studying that sport on and off the field can still provide great opportunities and a lot of fun for years to come.”

Kriston DeLisio, varsity soccer and youth league baseball, Woodstock, NY

“For gymnastics, determine the varsity coach’s requirements for making the team. Attend club gymnastics to improve conditioning and work on weaknesses. I had a gymnast on my team who tried two other sports and was very successful. She attributes this to her hard work and discipline in gymnastics!”

Rhonda Dixon, varsity and club gymnastics, Kingston, NY

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Upcoming topic: Teens splitting their time at the holidays (due to divorce or other reasons) — tips to handle it in the best way possible.

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Myrna Beth Haskell is a feature writer and columnist specializing in parenting issues and child and adolescent development. She is the mother of two teenagers.