When Your Child Doesn’t Make Varsity Sports


For decades teens have proudly worn a varsity team letter, or relished earning one even if it doesn’t embellish a jacket. A varsity letter brings with it prestige and notoriety. However, many teens who enjoyed playing a sport throughout their childhood don’t always make the varsity-level team. Should this be the end of their sports career, or a new beginning?

There are other options that provide many of the same benefits as varsity sports, such as learning to work as a team member and building new friendships. All a teen needs is the passion to play and the will to remain involved.

Dealing with disappointment

Being cut from the team can shatter a teen’s self esteem. Jan Drucker, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., says parents and coaches can help soften the blow by having the right attitude from the start.

“Helping a teen handle being cut from a team ideally starts years earlier,” she says. “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.”

Parents can also help their teen put failure in perspective. “Supportive parenting means empathizing with your teen’s feelings while leaving your own feelings of disappointment or anger aside,” she says. “It isn’t helpful to reinforce feelings of failure or to be Pollyannaish in dismissing the disappointment.”

Drucker suggests parents facilitate a positive conversation about the experience by asking their teen what he feels he has accomplished in the process, what skills he has gained and what he enjoyed about trying out.

Steve Ettinger, a fitness expert, soccer coach and author of Wallie Exercises (Active Spud Press, 2011), understands how much being cut can affect an athlete’s self esteem. “When a teen doesn’t make the team, he will inevitably feel any combination of hurt, disappointment and anger,” Ettinger says. “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

When a teen athlete doesn’t make the team, she needs to experience her frustration or anger, find acceptance, then move forward. If she wants to stay involved in the sport and competition is in her blood, perhaps a club team or recreational athletic organization will suffice. Asking the coach about playing on the practice team is another alternative.

“If they’re serious about continuing with the sport, the best option is to ask about a practice team,” Ettinger says. “Cuts are usually made because of limited roster space, but the size of the practice squad is usually up to the discretion of the coach. 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.”

Some sports, such as gymnastics and diving, offer the option of exhibition athletes on teams. This is a great choice for athletes who want to improve and try out again. Athletes can also transfer skills they’ve acquired from one sport to another. Football players who aren’t the right size for the squad might try wrestling or lacrosse. Some sports also provide individual competition without team cuts, such as cycling or martial arts.

If your child no longer wants to compete, a team management position might be right. Helping out at games or competitions as a scorekeeper or judge’s helper can serve as a steppingstone for a coaching or officiating job in the future.

Athletes of all abilities can become coaches, judges or trainers later in life. If teens realize a cut from one team doesn’t ban them from their favorite sport for life, they’re more apt to handle the disappointment in stride. n

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.


Tips and Tales


“While there are limited spots on high school varsity teams, other options exist for teens. Many schools offer club sports teams, while parks and recreation programs and the YMCA also offer various activities to keep youth active. If a teen desires to actively participate with his or her high school team, opportunities exist to serve as statisticians and student team managers, both key roles to the success of any team. The most important thing is for teens to maintain active and healthy lifestyles. Participation in a constructive team setting can greatly contribute to their overall development.” – Karen Moose DeHart, assistant commissioner for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association and former varsity volleyball and basketball coach

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