Sports tryouts can be especially hard for kids who learn and think differently. If your child doesn’t make the team or isn’t picked as a starting player, it can feel like a major letdown and rejection. Here are some tips to make the experience more constructive.
1. Don’t overreact.
It may feel like a big blow in the moment, but it’s not the end of the world if your child doesn’t make the team. It’s important to praise kids for their efforts. You can say, “You did your best. I’m proud of you.”
If your child is in elementary school or younger, you might say, “It’s OK, we’ll try something else.” Kids try lots of activities when they’re young. If your child is in middle school or high school, you might use the opportunity to ask, “Why do you think it didn’t work out?” or “Why do you think you didn’t become a starting player?”
2. Be clear about what happened.
You don’t know why your child didn’t make the team? It’s OK to call the coach or sports organization and ask for feedback. Kids who learn and think differently can benefit from knowing what really happened, instead of just experiencing another rejection.
Once you know the reason, it helps to talk to your child and break it down. Remind your child that we all have different strengths as well as things that challenge us. You can say: “There are some things you are good at, like running fast, and things you need to work on, like throwing.”
3. Think about a different sport.
You might want to ask the coach which sports would be a good fit for your child. A child who doesn’t make the basketball team because of slower reflexes might do well on the swim team.
Not making the team can actually help point your child toward a different activity. For example, if your child didn’t make the basketball team but the art teacher praises your child’s painting skills, you could try art classes instead.
4. Try, try again?
Help your child understand what happened during the tryout. If your child really likes the sport, maybe more practice is needed. You can encourage this and even see if your child can try out again later.
For kids who really love a particular sport but don’t have the skills for an advanced team, it’s important to talk about expectations. In other words, a child who doesn’t nab a star varsity spot at school can still play in a neighborhood recreational league.
Consider a sport that plays to your child’s strengths. Kids who struggle with motor skills might pick up a different sport than, say, kids who have a harder time socially. Some coaches will even let kids who want to participate, but who are still working on skills, to be scorekeepers or equipment assistants.
5. Deal with teasing.
Sometimes kids who learn and think differently experience social rejection on a sports team. They might say, “The two best players on the team think I’m weird.” If this happens, talk to your child about what’s going on. It’s important to note that teasing is not the same as bullying. You may also want to speak with the coach about addressing any teasing.
Are you looking for other options besides sports? Consider these extracurricular activities that build skills.