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Handling disappointment when they don’t make the team

Being part of a team is a great experience for kids and helps them build social skills, make friends, and build confidence. However, when your child tries out for the team and doesn’t make it, this can cause a lot of disappointment and feelings of inadequacy. 

The reality is, there are only so many open spaces on a team and some make it and some don’t. How can parents support and encourage their child when they don’t make the team, get a part in the school play, or get the part they wanted in the school band?

Allow time for feelings


It takes a lot of hard work to try out! Perhaps your child had to step out of their comfort zone to give it a try, or maybe they were cut from a team they have been part of in the past and are feeling rejected. Your child may have feelings of anger, confusion, sadness, or disappointment. Take time to validate their feelings. 


“As a junior who played volleyball every year, it was hard for her to be cut from the team.” said Kerri Arnold, mom of three. “I just hugged her and let her be sad. Later, she was able to go to the games and support her friends!” 


Our first response as parents may be to jump in with a negative comment about the coach or to make excuses. Instead, listen to them vent and allow them to explain their feelings. Give them a hug and say things like “that must hurt” or “what can I do to support you?” 


Let your child know you are behind them. Your child may not want to talk. If this is the case, give them space and let them know that you are there when they are ready. 


Give encouragement


Once your child has had some time to process what happened, sit down and talk to them about it. Let them know that you are proud of them for all their hard work. Talk about what they learned from the experience, if they had fun, and what they could do better next time. This doesn’t mean your child has to give up on a sport or activity they love, it just means they won’t be on this team this year. 


“I think you can try to frame it as a positive for trying, and then evaluate what they could do to make the team next year,” says Kara Thomas. “I find with my teen, he just needs some alone time to process it and doesn’t want me breaking it down with him like I might have done when he was younger. Now, I ask how I can support him and let him lead.” 


You can encourage them to continue to improve and look for an alternative opportunity at school or in the community. Let your child know that their worth is not based on whether they make a team or are good at an activity. Give them reasons they are valued and point out some of their strengths both in the activity and outside of it. 


Talk honestly with your child


It is a good idea to have an honest conversation with your child about the reality of sports and activities. They are competitive – especially school activities, where the population of the school is large but the number of available places on a team is small. 


Your child doesn’t have to give up because they didn’t make it. Coaches have to consider many factors when choosing players and it may simply be about timing. It may help your child to talk to the coach about their reasons for making the decisions they did. Your child can also ask what they can improve on for next time. 


Let your child know that many athletes that went on to become professional players didn’t make their high school teams. Similarly, there are famous actors that didn’t make their high school plays and popular authors who had their books rejected dozens of times before getting published. (An internet search can give you lists to show your child.) Rejection is difficult, but it is also a fact of life. While we can’t protect our children from it, we can encourage them to use it as motivation to improve their skills and try again.


As you work through your child’s feelings and disappointment, they will realize that time helps them reflect on the situation. Being cut from the team is difficult, but it also gives your child a moment to reflect. Is this the sport for them, or would they like to try something else? If they do stick with it, why do they think they were cut from the team? What advice does the coach have for next time? Is there another team your child can try out for? How will they work on sharpening their skills for next time? Surely they aren’t the only child who was cut from the team; is it possible to form another team made up of those players? Most importantly, is the sport fun, and if it is, how can they find a way to enjoy it? 


Encourage your child to take the experience, learn from it, and turn it into something positive. 


Sarah is a mom of six kids including seven-year-old triplets. She enjoys reading, writing, and spending time outdoors with her family.


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