From the Coach's Corner: When Your Child Doesn't Make the Team Mar 1, 2013

Tom CurryOriginally published in EP Magazine, March 2013

Making the team is great. But not making the team could be the start of something even greater!

By Tom Curry

One of the toughest things a coach has to do is make cuts. Telling someone they didn't make the team is never easy. Some coaches tell kids to their face. Some put up lists of who made the squad. Trust me...it was never easy and something I dreaded as a coach. After tryouts, I used to call out the names of the kids who would return the following day for practice. I then made myself available to speak to any player who wanted to discuss why he didn't make the team.  Lacking some skills necessary to compete at that level, inexperience and sometimes understanding how to play organized basketball as opposed to just playing in the gym or park with friends were just some of the reasons students didn't make the team. It might not have been the best way, but it was my way. I wanted to tell the young man face to face so I could help him understand the reasons and suggest ways to improve. In some cases, the player went out and worked harder and made the team the following year!

As a parent, it is sometimes difficult to understand why your child did not make the team. You see your child put a great deal of time and effort into practicing skills and then it all goes down the drain when cuts are made. What do you say? What do you do? I remember one father telling me that he didn't understand. "My son beats me in the driveway all the time. I don't understand why he didn't make the team." I tried to explain to this father that playing his son one on one in the driveway was great, but that there was a lot more to it than that. I kiddingly said to him that if we booked a team for a game in his driveway, that his son would be sure to play. He did laugh and come to understand that the young man needed a lot more competition than he was providing at home.

Let me offer some guidelines for you as the parent to think about when your son or daughter comes home and tells you, "I didn't make it". The first thing to do is to listen! Don't react either way, just listen. When your child is done telling you about it, ask about the process used in the tryouts. How many kids made the team? How many kids got cut? Gather information before making a statement. The more informed you are the better both of you will be in handling the disappointment. Yes, I did say both of you! The more invested you are as a parent in terms of time, money and commitment may mean that you will be just as frustrated as your child. That can be a difficult situation. If you have shelled out money for private lessons, clinics and individual and team coaching, you may be quite upset that your child did not make the team. Remember that those lessons do not guarantee anything. It just gives your child opportunities to improve his or her skills. There is a lot more than skills when it comes to making a team. Attitude, hustle, desire, teamwork and being able to be a part of the team are just some of the attributes of a good team player.

Some other practical suggestions to help your child and you in this difficult time would be:

• Never make it personal. The coach is not the enemy and not making the team is often the beginning for some kids, not the end. It makes them work harder. It makes them appreciate the work they have put into their sport.

• Never compare your child to other children on the team. This puts the coach in a very difficult situation. I don't know of many coaches who will talk about other kids to parents. It's unprofessional and not in anyone's best interest to enter into that discussion. If you would like to speak to the coach, set up an appointment. Remain calm at the meeting and ask what skills your son or daughter need to improve to have a chance to make the team next year.

• Encourage your child's efforts to improve and continue to play the sport. Nothing is gained from quitting. Overcoming adversity and disappointment is a part of growing up and an important part of life. We all know that not everyone gets to go to the college of their choice, do the exact job they want to do for their life and have everything go their way all the time. There may not be anything more satisfying than to be told you didn't make the team and then come back the next year and not only make the team, but be an integral part of the squad!

• Keep things in perspective! When my middle son did not make the baseball team in high school, he realized that he enjoyed golf more than baseball. He started to practice more and more, and the next year made the golf team. He enjoyed it more and still plays as often as he can. He relishes those times when he now, more often than not, gets to defeat his father at the game we both love and enjoy!

Making the team is great. But not making the team could be the start of something even greater! I often tell our coaching staff that the way they handle disappointment and defeat is the way our students will handle it. Stay positive, upbeat and encourage the efforts needed to succeed. These all go a longer way than pouting and staying down about a situation. Let your child see that in you and they will learn to overcome any obstacle that may be placed in front of them...thanks to your example.

About the Author:
Tom Curry has been an Athletic Director in Bergen County, New Jersey, as well as an adjunct professor in the Wellness and Exercise Science Department at Bergen Community College for 24 years. He has coached high school basketball and golf and was voted Bergen County Basketball Coach of the Year in 2002. He has spoken at the New Jersey Medical Society Sports Symposium and to parent groups on various issues pertaining to youth sports. He was inducted into the NJ Coaches Hall of Fame in 2012.

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