“There is a strong disposition in youth, from which some individuals never escape, to suppose that everyone else is having a more enjoyable time than we are ourselves;”
—-Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time: 1st Movement
Parents, beware of the trap of focusing on only one or two options in youth sports! Fortunately for kids, there are so many sports to sample at an early age. And sampling serves young athletes well because you do not know yet what their aptitudes and inclinations are. Each child has his own story and each one is different.
What I consider an unfortunate evolution in many community leagues today is the way teams are formed. Presently, a parent/coach can take an application to the league and provide the names of a pre-formed team. The old tradition was to individually express interest in being on a team, take your application to the league, and the league used the names for a draft from which teams were formed and where parity was assured.
Nowadays the scenario can go like this. Moms who are friends are having coffee. They think of all the friends of their children whose moms they enjoy, submit that list to their husbands. Their husbands secure a coach (or do it themselves), modify the list to incorporate the kids they perceive to be fast, coordinated, competitive…you get the idea. I have seen teams of 5-6 year olds pre-ordained to be the future school championship team, at least in the minds of some adults. This can be a tough situation to deal with.
Let’s say your son or daughter would also like to be on that team; those are their friends/classmates and it sounds like great fun. But when you inquire, you learn that the roster is already full. The adult who has just told you “no” feels terrible. You are sure that you have failed your child! If you had only been aware, used social capital to be in on the ground floor, etc. Feelings are hurt, resentment can build, children feel excluded (as well as their parents), and toxicity gains ground.
Unfortunately, that’s the first introduction to youth sports that many youngsters and their unwitting parents receive. It doesn’t look like the leagues are overly concerned because this is what the consumer has requested, pre-formed teams. Now what do you do?
Here’s my best advice to you:
1. You be the adult. Use your perspective that you have earned over your lifetime regarding disappointments and hurts, and frame the situation with positivity and hope.
2. Do not express anger or resentment toward the other parents and children. Model resilience and creativity to reassure your little one that life will continue, and likely in a better direction for him/her.
3. Look online, talk to other kids’ parents who are in your situation, brainstorm another fun and quality sports activity/experience. Be the organizer and share your enthusiasm and optimism with others.
4. Do not be afraid to allow your son or daughter to play on a different team or in a different league with children from other schools. They will be spreading their wings socially, and in years to come, those associations often bring unforeseen dividends.
5. Refuse to believe that this is a setback for your child. Your child’s story is unfolding and you have no idea at this point how this will benefit him/her in the long run.
6. This one is optional, but if you feel strongly, let the league commissioner know that you think a draft would be a healthier approach to forming teams. It broadens children socially, and “talent” is better distributed throughout the league.