What to do when your child doesn’t make the team?

Hockey Team

Selection, especially when it is in the context of team sports, is likely one of the thorns in your side as a sports parent. The selection process is fraught with emotions for both athlete and parent. Making this worse is the continuous reports of unfair selection procedures or favouritism occurring in many sports and across all age groups. Here are some of my experiences of late that deal with the topic of selection. Hopefully you can take something from some of these experiences.

I see more and more children leaving their beloved sports due to selection practices and either joining other schools or clubs, or they are leaving the sport all together. Sometimes these moves are necessary and turn out to be very positive, sometimes these moves are premature and the same thing ends up happening elsewhere. While the fight to bring fair procedures into sport should never be forsaken, I have witnessed countless opportunities for children to grow be wasted because the quest for fairness was the only thing considered by the parent as well as their children. There is more to playing sport than just making a team!

Unfortunately many children have learnt that they must look at ‘the system’ for reasons why they have not succeeded. This closes the door on them reflecting on what they can do to improve or break through. The only option then is to look for a new system in which they can break through. Here are two contrasting examples in this regard, one where a child ended up changing schools but learnt valuable lessons along the way, and another where the athlete immediately looked at the ‘unfair system’ for reasons for him not moving up.

I had this experience of a 15 year old that was very unhappy in a school and even more so in his sport there. He had difficulties adapting to the school, its pupils and was also treated unfairly in terms of selection. He is a bright young man and was very willing to work on his difficulties at the school, which was more about a clash of culture and personalities than just the fact he was not given a fair chance. About a year after I had met him, he decided in conjunction with his parents to change schools. This ended up being a good move for him as he is now much happier in his new school and still playing the sport that he loves. He commented that he now realises what was missing at his old school; it was encouragement and support. He had retained the ability to reflect on his own performances and realised that this move was partly necessary, not just him looking for a new place to play his sport. His parents (though I only met his father) were patient and went through this time with him, helping him where they could and allowing him to attempt to adapt. When he finally decided that looking for another school was an option, they were there to help, never forcing this option until he came up with the suggestion himself.

In the second example, an upset coach recently referred one of his 19 year old players whom had broken the chain of command in his club. He recently joined the club and following a motivational talk on goal setting by one of the managers, approached the manager with a query. In that conversation the player eventually complained about unfair selection processes, not thinking that this manager is the coach’s superior and would have to follow up this allegation. He used the shortcomings in the system as the reason why he was not achieving his goals. To cut a long story short, in my conversation with this player I realised that he was not being realistic about his own performances. I managed to get the statistics of the 1st team players of that same club and he, being a few teams lower, compared his stats to theirs. He quickly realised that he had been very unrealistic in his thinking, with their stats looking as much as 5 times better than his. I used the following metaphor to explain this to him: If you are a soldier and looking to go into battle, you have to make sure you have enough ammunition with you to last you the entire battle. Going into battle with three bullets will guarantee your failure. If you are going to query another person’s selection above yours, make sure you have built up enough ammunition in performances to win the battle of selection. This player was forever coming up with excuses why the system was not giving him a chance, rather than taking a good hard look in the mirror and realising he needs to pull up his socks if he wants to reach those very high goals he has set for himself.

Sport is regarded as one of the best tools where children can learn valuable personal and social lessons. That is the beauty of participating in sports; there are few activities that can match participating in sports for the diversity of challenges and opportunities for learning. Only looking at what team she makes or the bias if she doesn’t will blind you to valuable opportunities for the personal and social growth of your child. While we should all strive to rid sport in South Africa of all unfair practices, as a parent do not miss the opportunities along the way to help your child learn valuable personal and social lessons. These lessons will serve them well in whatever challenges they may face in the future.

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