The first cut is the deepest: 'Cutting' teens from teams takes a toll   (2022)

Brandon had been working out all summer to make the high school soccer team. He had been playing soccer since he was six years old and loved the game. He came up through the recreational leagues but did not have a chance to play on the year-round "club" teams because his parents did not have the time or money that it demanded. Brandon understood that the competition to make the high school team would be tough, but he was confident. The night before his first day of tryouts he made sure to go to bed early to get a good night's sleep.

Over the next three day's Brandon participated in tryouts at his school. He participated in running drills, foot skill drills and open field scrimmages. He felt he had done well in the running, usually finishing in the first half of the group. He also felt good about the drills because he had always handled the ball well. He thought he had done all right in the scrimmages but he noticed that the group had been split in two and for some reason the coach always seemed to watch the other group and scarcely glanced at the game he was playing in. On one play, he stole the ball from his opponent and moved it upfield but when he glanced around he saw that no one from the coaching staff was even watching.


On the fateful day where "cuts" were going to be made, Brandon hoped for the best. He went to practice with his equipment and water hoping he would be there until the end. Unfortunately, when his name was called he was given bad news. The coach told him there were a lot of people going out for the team and that he was not able to keep him. The coach wished him luck and that was it - his hope to play soccer in high school was over.

It is unfortunate fact that in our area, most of the high school teams have more athletes going out for them than they have spots on the roster. That means many good, hard working, enthusiastic young people are "cut" from the team and are not given the chance to participate. This can be one of the most painful experiences an adolescent can face, especially if they have spent much of their childhood playing the sport and preparing for the high school team.


Sometimes if there is a strong enough interest in the sport, the teen may continue to train and compete with the idea of trying out again the following year. This is sort of like "doubling down" and can be somewhat risky as there may be a point of diminishing returns in athletic competition, although there are many great stories of athletes who are cut and go on to have amazing high school careers or more. Michael Jordan is one of the best examples of a player who was cut when he went out for his high school team and went on to become one of the best players in the history of the game.

These miracle comebacks are unusual though as most of the time, whatever kept the player off the team the first time, will continue to keep them off in the future. That means if they continue to pursue their goal of playing for the team, they may be in for a second dose of heartbreak after investing even more time and energy in their dream.

For the teenage athlete who has been told they aren't good enough to be on the team, the future is uncertain. After losing one of their primary activities since childhood, they are left feeling excluded and abandoned. Often, they feel as if everyone in the world knows they were "cut" and they feel embarrassment and shame at not being selected. They may not know what to do with themselves and feel as though they have lost a major part of their identity. If not dealt with directly and effectively, it can seed the roots of lowered self-confidence, withdrawal from peers and even be a catalyst for depression.

There are more and less effective ways to deal with a child who has been cut from a sports team. The first and most effective way is to be "real" with the child and not try to gloss over or deny the hurt and loss involved in the experience. Listen to your child and try to get a sense of their experience. Don't try to rush in and rescue them by trying to minimize or gloss over the hurt. Also, don't blame the child or other people for what happened as that can create all types of mixed feelings that just make the situation worse.

Try and give them some time to absorb the shock and loss. Initially, avoid trying to change how they feel or talk them out of their situation. Try empathizing with their sense of disappointment, anger, sadness and hurt. Allow them to feel whatever they feel without judgment or correction and let them know you are there for them. It's ok to let them know you are also feeling disappointment about the situation and pain for their hurt but make sure they understand that you are not disappointed in them and not being on a sports team does not make them a failure. Reinforce for them that are still valuable, talented, and loved individuals regardless of whether they made the team or not.

After validating the hurt and loss involved in being cut and after giving the child time to absorb the shock, the parent can gradually move into discussing some of the more positive aspects of the situation, including the courage the child showed by going out for the team in the first place. It is also helpful to gently guide them toward some new activities to help them realize that life goes on and that they can still have an active and involved life even if they aren't on the team. In fact, they may be surprised by how much time and energy not being on the team saves them - time and energy that can be put to good use in other healthy ways.

It is true that getting cut is painful but it is also true that it can lead to meaningful learning and growth. There are inevitable setbacks all throughout life - not getting into the school we want, or having the relationship we desire or landing the job we apply for - just to name a few. One of the keys to living a successful life is how we handle things when they don't go our way. Learning how to get back up again after being knocked down and how to dust ourselves off and move forward again may be the most important lesson we can learn.

If getting cut results in sad emotions and social withdrawal for more than two weeks, or other significant personal changes occur, like sleep problems, irritability, loss of appetite or unusual behavior, please consider getting counseling. Counseling can help to assess the situation and get the teen on track before the problems deepen even further.


Scott E. Smith, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist with Spectrum Behavioral Health in Arnold, Annapolis, and Crofton MD. To contact Dr. Smith, please call 410-757-2077 or write him at 1509 Suite F, Ritchie Hwy., Arnold, MD. 21012

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