My Kid Got Cut
By Kirsten Jones
The Mom was fighting back tears as she shared the raw news that she had just received.
“He’s a Senior. His whole life has been tied up with water polo for the last 6+ years. He spent all of his summers playing ODP (Olympic Development Program) and last year, he was the MVP of the team. It just doesn’t make any sense. The only feedback he got was the coach says he’s too small.”
The more she spoke, the greater my heart hurt for her. I could tell she was trying to do right by her son; she had encouragingly told him, “Hey, good news, now you can focus on college apps.” Not what he wanted to hear. “Thanks, Mom.”
In one day, he had lost his favorite sport, the way he had self-identified for years, AND all the friends that came along with that passion. Now that he was no longer on that team, he wouldn’t get to hang out with those boys. He felt lost.
What happens when we have to pivot? When life doesn’t choose us for something we’ve dedicated our heart and soul to? We each would like to decide when we’re done with something, whether it’s a relationship or a job, or a sport. But some of the greatest lessons are in the abrupt let-down. When the door is slammed in our faces and we didn’t even expect it.
This is why sports can be such great teachers. They are, of course, a wonderful way for our children to learn about teamwork and collaboration, leadership and grit, hard work and victory, but more importantly, some of the greatest lessons we’ll learn in sports, as in life, are when it ends and we are forced to pivot.
How do we support our child when he is going through this pain? And, let’s be honest, sometimes our perceived “pain” is just as great as his. We’ve invested countless hours of driving, watching practices and workouts, we’ve given up family vacations in the process to show commitment to the team, and paid countless dollars to help support our son’s dream.
And now this is how we’re rewarded?!
As parents, we often times conflate our pain with our children. While, yes, we’ve made a significant investment of resources into the sport as well, it is not our pain to deal with. In this case, it is the lessons her son can learn from this moment that can be a life-altering opportunity if he chooses. Some will use it as an opportunity to self-soothe with negative rewards, but the more supported ones will use it as a time to find their true passion. So how do we do the latter?
How to Pivot after Getting Cut (or Your Sports Career Ends)
1) Allow time to pass: While in the moment, this definitely feels life-altering because it is, it’s important not to jump in and try and fix anything immediately. Give your child the time to process what’s happened.
2) Give space: Ask him what he needs at the moment. Without inserting your own opinion, just ask him how he’s feeling. (This can be easier said, than done, so don’t be hard on yourself if you flail a bit here at first). If he needs to be left alone to process, let him be. As long as he is safe, his process will be done according to his timing.
3) Redefine Your Purpose: Once he’s had time to process (for some kids, this takes days, for others, it can be ok within a few minutes), ask how you can best support him. “Would you like to brainstorm some other options for senior year? I heard the cross-country team is looking for runners, and you used to love to run in middle school.”
4) Set little goals: Maybe he decided he’d like to take a shot a writing a play or starting a podcast. Find someone who’s already done this and follow them and their work. Read or listen to how they’ve done it and start to slowly implement little baby steps towards getting there. If you’re a team sports athlete, find a partner! Collaboration is fun, and everything is “figure-table.” We are best when we are being creative, so flex this muscle, and it will grow.
5) Move Your Body: Just because you didn’t play golf or tennis in middle school doesn’t mean you can’t pick up a racket or club now. Have a beginner’s mindset and learn something new for the love of learning.
Is there something you and your son can do together? You’ve always wanted to hike the summit near your hometown? Do it together. Your body and your mind will thank you for it, not to mention the memories you will make together because, in a few short months, when he’s off onto his next adventure, those memories are what will matter most to both of you.
There is no good time to get cut. Period. It always sucks. And there is always a silver lining if we choose to look for it.