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Aug. 27 2009 - 6:07 pm | 213 views | 0 recommendations | 9 comments

My kid’s not going junior high: dealing with getting cut

In all my four children’s lifetimes, never has the simple act of getting off the school bus been such a sign of doom.

If my seventh-grade son had survived the final cut of his school’s volleyball tryouts, he would have been at practice today instead of being on that bus. He made it through the first cut down to 20. But he didn’t get picked for the final roster of 14 seventh- and eighth-grade boys.  I found out when my wife texted me, “He just got off the bus. Damn.”

Before I get into the issue of cut or not to cut, let me say that no matter how you feel, getting cut, or seeing your kid get cut, is a punch in the gut. Getting told you’re not good enough to do something is always a rotten feeling, no matter how old you are, no matter what you’re doing.

My son had two days to impress the coaches (though they also saw him in a summer camp), and that doesn’t give you a lot of margin for error. I think he should be proud that he is officially among the 20 best boys’ volleyball players in his school, especially because my understanding is that only five seventh-graders made it to the final tryout. But right now I’m sure he’s upset, and I’m upset for him.

Now, this day, is not the time to share the oft-told, inspiring (and completely untrue) story of how Michael Jordan got cut from his high school basketball team as a sophomore (he was put on the junior varsity team, as most sophomores are). It’s also not the time to start plotting how many camps he’ll go to so he can have a better shot next year. It’s also not time to tell him about all the opportunities it opens up. (Sheesh, I get offended when my wife half-jokingly tells me about all the free time I have when the Indianapolis Colts or Indiana Pacers season ends in a crushing playoff loss, though the Pacers’ haven’t been good enough to give me that headache lately.)

Today is about grieving. If that sounds a bit much, then you’ve probably never been cut before.

However, I’m not joining the chorus of those who say nobody should ever be cut from a school team. I’m not sure we can surmise that the genesis of school shootings is kids getting cut from the basketball team. On the other hand, I’m not saying that I’m a hard-ass who believes snot-nosed kids should learn early and often how much they suck so they can move onto more appropriate pursuits, like staying the hell out of the jocks’ way. If a school wants to do cuts or no cuts, it doesn’t bother me — though it would be nice if schools had intramural programs for kids who either didn’t make the team or would rather play in a more casual setting.

Getting cut can go either way for a child, and for a parent. It can be a positive experience that teaches a child about dealing with disappointment. It can be a valuable lesson in telling a child that maybe there’s somewhere else where his or her talents will work and be appreciated. Or it can be a valuable lesson in how hard work on your own time is the key to success, and coming back from being knocked down.

Or it can be a crushing blow to a child’s self-esteem, making him or her feel a little less like a functioning member of society. That’s always the initial feeling. The trick is morphing that feeling into the positive experience I described in the previous paragraph.

The question is how to do that. How can I help him? Should he spend a year working hard on his game for next year’s tryouts? Should he forget volleyball and pursue other interests? (Even before volleyball tryouts, he said he wanted to do a tech/computer club, a strategy games club and learn drums in the school band.) How long is the mourning period for being cut? (My only sport in high school with cross country and track, where no one got cut.)

I’ve love to learn from your experience, if nothing else so getting off the bus can be a happier event.


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  1. collapse expand

    Most of the kids who try out for varsity sports at the big high schools in SoCal have played club ball since they were little. Volleyball is no exception. Recreation level sports are typically sneered at by high school coaches. Any kind of intramural sport has to have a faculty adviser and you can bet there isn’t any money for that. There are YMCA leagues, city leagues, pay to play leagues – but if a kid can’t compete at the high school level, sorry, they get cut. Hell, some kids are advised by their club coaches to not even waste their time playing high school sports. Sorry about your kid. I’ve been in those trenches with my own boys – sometimes you make a team and the coach sits you most of the season. That sucks too. Tom medlicott

  2. collapse expand

    I remember when my daughter tried for a number club volleyball teams during 8th grade and didn’t make the cut for any of them. It was really hard, especially when one of them later called back and said yes to her, and then called back and said no, that was a mistake (that really sucked). The results of this were her hating sports, hating being physically active, and gaining weight that we are still trying to deal with. I was happy that she actually wanted to try out for a sport, but by the eighth grade, with the level of competitiveness that club volleyball is at (as Tom Medlicott pointed out), if you haven’t started at club volleyball, it’s almost too late. I felt guilty about not starting her earlier.

    7th grade school sports seems early to start cutting people (my sons’ Catholic junior high school level sports doesn’t cut anyone and will expand the number of teams if there is a chance to do so, although the big Catholic high schools definitely do cut people). One of the points of sports should be encouraging physical activity – the rise in childhood obesity is no joke, especially when you see it in your house. I don’t know who said it, but someone once said that a college football game was 22 people desperately needing rest watched by 22 thousand people desperately needing exercise.

    As for what to tell your son, hard to say. I told my daughter that there are other activities – may be she just wanted to play at the rec level, etc – but that didn’t help right away. What did help was the flurry of 8th grade activities (like applying for high schools – the stress was a painful yet convenient distraction) that year that took her mind off it. So I guess moving on to other things is the best course, although it won’t help right away. My daughter eventually did drop some of the weight, and she likes fun, noncompetitive activities like hiking or shooting basketballs with her brothers.

  3. collapse expand

    Thanks for your comments, Tom and Jeff. Fortunately, when I got home my son was not curled up in the fetal position. He said he figured his chances were 50-50 for the final cut, especially with so few seventh-graders left. So while I wouldn’t say he’s 100 percent over it (one of the boys who did make it was part of his Xbox Live game last night, and my son was a little sheepish saying he didn’t make it), he’s already looking forward. I’ll get to that in a post I plan to do today, “In praise of dabbling.”

  4. collapse expand

    Mr. Cook,

    I did not have this problem in Jr. High, nor did my kids in Middle School. At the schools I went to and they went to, there were no inter-mural sports, only intra-murals. We had no uniforms, no coaches, and the referees, if there any, were students from other grades. Every homeroom could have a team that everyone who wanted to could make and we played after school until we were red in the face and covered in either dirt or sweat and often both. The whole cut-list thing began in High School. It worked for us.

  5. collapse expand

    Bob,

    This hits close to home. Our 7th grade daughter will be trying out in a few weeks for her middle school volleyball team. 20 kids were cut last fall, so we will have to see. Most Middle School/Junior Highs here in PA have separate 7th and 8th grade teams. They still cut, but the odds are better when you just have one grade.

    A couple of quick thoughts:

    1. With only one 7th and 8th grade team, maybe there’s a good chance he makes it next year. Getting invited back on the second day means something.
    2. Volleyball is a tough sport to learn until you reach a certain age. There just aren’t enough modifications made to teach kids. (e.g. there are no t-ball equivalents for volleyball) Maybe in California, but not here in PA.

    To be honest, it might be harder on us parents. Most kids are fine, just like your son, jumping right into xbox, the band and other activities. Good for him.

  6. collapse expand

    Many of the children suffer from school truancy habit and don’t go to school. It is showing lack of discipline and responsibility in kids. There are various certified Military schools which incorporate high disciplined and strict environment that help unmotivated teenagers to regain lost confidence, self-esteem and accountability. Wide ranges of programs such as indoor academics, outdoors, sports, athletics, drill instructions and recreational activities are offered by experienced trainers in order to make teen punctual and internally strong.

    http://www.troubledteens.net/Problems-in-Teens/Military-School-Problems.html

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    About Me

    A youth sports blog written by Bob Cook. He contributes to NBCSports.com, or MSNBC.com, if you prefer. He’s delivered sports commentaries for All Things Considered. For three years he wrote the weekly “Kick Out the Sports!” column for Flak Magazine.

    Most importantly for this blog, Bob is a father of four who is in the throes of being a sports parent and youth coach in an inner-ring suburb of Chicago. He reserves the right to change names to protect the innocent and the extremely, extremely guilty.

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    You can see what I’m up to by following me at facebook.com/rkcookjr and/or twitter.com/notgoingpro. You can also become an official fan of Your Kid’s Not Going Pro on Facebook. I’m endlessly fascinating.