Most parents look forward to their children reaching an age when they can participate in team sports. It signifies a stage where they’ve attained a higher level of fitness and the physical ability to learn news skills, in addition to the cognitive development to adhere to rules, work with teammates and deal with winning and losing. But, before you know it, those days when everyone gets to play will be coming to an end as you enter into the era of competition.
It’s our job as parents to be there for our children as they make the jump in competition, and according to Kate Roberts, Ph.D., a noted psychologist and parenting coach, the earlier we start the better. “The expectations need to be on the process and not the outcome,” says Roberts. It’s about parents doing their part to prepare children to play and give their best on the field, and then letting the outcome take its natural course.
Adam Naylor, Ed.D., a Boston-based sports psychologist, encourages parents to embrace their position as role players. “If we screw up everything else, we don’t want to screw up being a good supporter,” says Naylor.
The best thing a parent can do before learning whether their child made the team, Roberts advises, is to separate their disappointment from what their child’s reaction will be. “Keep your emotions in check, so the child is free to respond in whatever way they are going to,” she urges. She recommends talking about the realities of trying out beforehand, delivering the news straight and giving them them the space to go through their own process of dealing with disappointment.
As parents, we are programmed to make our children’s lives comfortable, suggests Naylor, noting that athletics require a certain level of discomfort. “The worse thing we can do as sports parents is to rob kids of healthy challenges. Getting cut can be a healthy challenge they have to learn to manage,” he says.
When it comes to disappointment over sports, “recognize how they feel,” says Anthony Wolf, Ph.D., a well-known author of books on teen behavior and parenting. It’s significant to realize a void has been created by what has happened, and to find a healthy replacement toward which your child can direct her enthusiasm.
The first step in extracting the positive out of not making the team is letting your child’s actions dictate what happens next. Rather than immediately seeking another opportunity or investing in supplementary training, take your cues from your child and notice the signs, such as your child practicing and playing on her own, or gravitating to a different activity. Getting cut may be just what was needed to reaffirm dedication to a sport, adjust expectations based on realistic factors or come to the realization it’s time to try something new.