Since many of your kids are in the thick of this, we need to have a good conversation about it sooner rather than later. I’m talking about one of the most stressful aspects of going back to or starting high school. So let’s all say it out loud once and for all — #TRYOUTS. Your sons and daughters are trying out for sports teams and feel like the world might end if they don’t make the team. In fact, in their worlds making or not making a team is a major part of their adolescent lives.
Consider an incoming freshman boy who has been playing soccer since he was 5 years old. Now here he is going through four days of being evaluated to maintain that part of his life and identity. And, he’s being evaluated publicly in front of new coaches and peers. He may or may not make the team. His responses can range from happiness to sheer humiliation. I know this. These boys are sitting in my office practically crying about tryouts. Now consider a sophomore teen girl who may have been playing soccer for most of her life. She was on the freshman team last year. This year she desperately wants to make the varsity team and be a star like many of her peers. She is at high risk to experience a major letdown if she makes the junior varsity team and her good friends all make the varsity team. Tryouts are no small thing in the lives of teens. And precisely because of that they are no small thing in the lives of parents.
So let’s say you’re kid makes the desired team. Then the mood around the house is celebratory and upbeat and you can exhale. What if your kid does not make the team? Should you join your kids in a collective sense of outrage and immediately call the coaches to complain about the injustice of this decision or should you berate your child for their poor performance during tryouts. Well, hold on please. Before you react please consider my suggestions. Your job is to make your teen feel whole again not to further intensify bad feelings.
If your teen doesn’t make the team consider:
1. Suggesting that this is not where things end for them sports-wise. In fact, maybe they are not ready for this level of competition yet and can spend this year working on their skills.
2. Talking to your teen about other opportunities. Perhaps he/she would like to try a new activity.
3. Making sure that you don’t make this about yourself. This is solely about your child. No vicarious living through your child here.
4. Use this as an opportunity for your child to learn how to deal with disappointment. Dealing with disappointment is a major resiliency skill and helps all of us recover from disappointing daily experiences.
5. Encourage your child to “remember who they are.” This is one of my very favorite expressions. Remind them that they are about more than just the sport that they are playing.
I know that this can be a harrowing time of the year. I wish you all grace and dignity in handling it well for your own well-being and especially for you teens’ sense of self and self-esteem.
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Barbara Greenberg is a clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of children, teens and parents. She is the Adolescent Consultant for Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, CT. Dr. Greenberg frequently appears on national TV including shows such as ABC Good Morning America, Nightline and CNN. She is a parenting expert for GalTime -an online womens’ magazine and is also The Teen Doctor for Psychology Today.