My 15-year-old was cut from his club ice hockey team last week. And it was the worst thing ever. But, it was also the greatest thing ever.
In our house, we love to brandish around the cliche “the comeback is greater than the setback,” but how true that rings is no clearer than when one of my kids doesn’t make a team they’ve invested blood, sweat, and tears trying out for or is cut from one they have loved being on. We happen to be a very sports-centered family—my boys choose hockey and baseball over other extracurriculars—however, these sentiments could apply to all clubs and teams certainly.
Though it may sound trite, and despite the fact that it is always harder in reality than I may be making it seem, the important, time-tested fact to remember is that they will bounce back, and it will be fine in the end. Kids are far more resilient than we adults are—likely an evolutionary necessity given all the hits they have to take growing up.
Because chances are we will all go through this with our children at some point in their lives, it is paramount to not only our sanity but our roles as parents to bear in mind that there are actually positive repercussions to being cut from a team. Such silver linings manifest in the form of life lessons. And isn’t that what childhood and the teenage years are all about—learning lessons and acquiring the critical tools and skills it takes to succeed and be happy in life?
Here is what we tell our kids during what I’ll be the first to concede is one of the most difficult, painful events of not only their lives but also ours as parents who are right there buckled in beside them on the emotional rollercoaster of youth sports.
Failure is normal. It’s how you get up that matters. Mark Cuban lectures about his past failures. Michael Jordan was famously cut from his high school varsity team sophomore year. I can barely name a highly-celebrated famous person who does not have a failure story of some type. What allowed them to ultimately conquer the world was the fact that they shook it off, pressed on, and did not give up.
In the grand scheme of things, getting cut from a sport is no biggie, happens all the time. What differentiates the “men from the boys,” if you will, is one’s reaction—the ability to pull oneself up and go at it again. Hockey is our son’s lifeblood. With our encouragement, he was fortunate enough to find another team where he was welcomed and where his talents and skill level would be more appreciated. If that had not been possible, we would have advised him to keep practicing and try again next season.
The key we impressed upon him is to not let it get you down so much that you stop playing something you love altogether. Get back in the game and crush it. Let them regret ever leaving you off the roster.
That said, it is okay to cry . . . in fact, you should. I only have boys. They are horrible at emoting. After being cut and keeping his emotions in check for a week, the dam finally burst and he sobbed after a teammate reached out to him with a very sweet, touching text to say he’ll be missed. It is tough watching your kids cry, but this was necessary, and I was so relieved to see him let it all out. Kids—in my opinion, boys in particular who tend to repress more—need to know there is nothing wrong with crying, that it is healthy and normal to release those feelings through tears. No better opportunity to practice releasing feelings than when cut from a team.
Let’s take an honest, hard look at where you really belong and what is best for your development and mental well-being. Is it really better for your kid to be at the bottom of the lineup, scraping to get by every season, hardly getting any play time? Would your child be better off on a team where he or she gets to play more and feels more confident? Or perhaps what is really in order is an off-season to allow your athlete to regroup, recenter, take a much-needed mental break while continuing to hone skills through hard work and extra practice?
We assessed our options and explored all these questions with our guy, and he ended up deciding to move to a team that may not be as highly ranked but would probably allow him the chance to shine more, and—most importantly—to develop more as a hockey player. He is now genuinely very excited for the new season after putting all this into perspective.
C’est la vie. Grit is key, so get gritty. You are, inevitably, going to face this type of situation and disappointment in life as an adult. My husband told our son about the time he was fired from his job many years ago when the kids were much younger, how he was blindsided, shocked, his self-esteem shot. He was stressed as heck about how he was going to provide for his growing family. Nevertheless, he got right back up, dusted himself off, interviewed like mad, and ended up with a job he loved so much more that suited him infinitely better. Unfortunately, failure is unavoidable in life. Resilience, perseverance, and grit are qualities not to be undermined, qualities that everyone has if he or she digs deep enough, qualities that will greatly assist in the recovery and, moreover, in the comeback.
Be the person who offers a hand to someone who has stumbled, especially now that you understand how it feels. Humbleness, humility, and empathy for others are all crucial life skills often overlooked. Take the moment, as we did, to remind your guy or gal to be the kid who encourages rather than ignores a downtrodden teammate, who lifts up rather than pushes down.
Bottom line: being cut is hard—really, really hard. Let them grieve, talk through their feelings with them, and then help them to find their inner grit and get back in the game a stronger, better person. In our family, it hasn’t always worked out as well as it did in this latest case of our 15-year-old, but as parents, our mantra will always be the same. Above all, our support and love will always be unyielding. And I think just knowing that is enough to help them pull through a little easier.