From ‘A’ to ‘B’ Team To ‘Benched’: Handling Disappointment

By Debby Shulman

Handling disappointments with our teenagers is never easy.  I find that I take on much more emotionally than they do. It hurts me more and stings harder because I can see the whole picture; I have the luxury of the birds-eye view, the unobstructed vantage point.  So often our teens are quick to forgive and forget, a wonderful character trait but it might be at the expense of dealing with a situation they are not ready to handle, or one that triggers an emotional response they are not ready for.

So, what do we do?  We handle that for them.

We show that anger and resentment, we have imaginary conversations in our heads about what we would LOVE to say to that teacher, coach or friend, who has hurt our child so much, and we grieve without reservation because we’re adults.  We get to do that without fear of retribution and it’s not so bad that our kids see this.

Perhaps it’s a good way of showing them that emotion is a good thing, even when you don’t get what you want or feel you deserve.  But all the same, it hurts and without question — sometimes things are just NOT FAIR.

Life-long little athletes spending hours at their beloved sport often suffer setbacks at the expense of a competitive coach, ability, or physical size.  What was once so easy in junior high becomes more competitive and challenging in high school.

‘A’ teams and ‘B’ teams fall by the wayside after freshman year, and we watch with heavy hearts as our teens, who once spent most of their free time in a cold, damp ice rink or in a musty batting cage, or in expensive, private volleyball leagues, are not good enough – for whatever reason – to continue the game they love.

Forget about the missed summers up at camp, or winter family vacations because there were mandatory clinics to attend.  Forget about the hours spent driving to faraway games, in suburbs you’ve never heard of, trying desperately to find a cup of coffee at 6 am on a Sunday. Looking in the rear-view mirror, the game face already on, knees jittering, anxious to suit up. Time is irrelevant when you’re 15 and you’re wearing that junior varsity jersey. Wearing your number proudly on your back, loving the locker room antics and feeling a part of something so sentimental, it could make you cry.

Picking up your mitt, lacing up those hockey skates, attaching your shin guards.  This is the stuff our kids mourn the most when it’s not theirs anymore.

So how do we handle situations that are simply unfair? 

When does commitment, reliability, sportsmanship and character supersede prowess?  Is a coach wrong to reward those who behave poorly but play well?

Are we foolish to insist that our kids do their best, notwithstanding the obvious – that they very well might not make it but they should try their hardest anyway?  And what happens when they DO finally make that team, only to sit on the bench for the entire season?

All we want to do is see them take the court, hit the ice or bat just once  …that “Rudy” Moment where he takes the field, in the last play of the biggest game of the year.

We want our kids to have that momentNot just for them, but for US too.

We want to see our gut-buster of a kid push out from the boards and take his position.  We want to call his name one more time, gushing inside at what he is and who he has become.  And for reasons we all know, sometimes we miss out on that chance.  And boy, does it hurt.

We take it just as hard but know, with teens, it’s all about letting them get there emotionally on their own. They know how sad and disappointed we are are — never at them – just the unbearable situation of knowing there was an injustice, or a situation that should have been handled differently.

And while we might be okay with them turning the other way and leaving the sport altogether … it says much more of THEIR integrity when they continue to suit up … knowing full well they are going to sit on that bench for all three periods, helmet off, mouth guard in hand.

We are torn with pride and respect for that great kid who is learning a hard life lesson right before our eyes, and we are disgusted that when given the chance to make it right by giving ‘Rudy’ a chance to play, a coach turns a blind eye to having a teachable moment.

Shame on him; then we all lose.

Coaching is teaching It is knowing when you have the opportunity to share your trusted guidance, skill and knowledge with kids thirsty for success, but at the same time rise above the fray and noise, to offer a moment to a kid who deserves it.  Those are the moments we read and fantasize about.  And we know it happens because we hear about those coaches and because every now and then it happens to us.

So when it doesn’t, it leaves an impenetrable sadness on opportunities lost.

And here is where parenting our older teen is more about the discussion than the behavior. They know we get to show our sadness and anger, that we get to vent our frustrations to close family and friends about the blatant disregard for doing the right thing, that we recognize that this is how life is … but that it hurts that much more when it happens to you.  It’s okay to be angry and show it to our kids.  They don’t have that birds-eye view of what we do, the luxury of knowing that in the end, we raised a good kid – a great kid – who will go on to much greater things long after that final buzzer sounds.

Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: Debby Shulman is a college essay consultant and academic tutor with a private practice in Northbrook, Illinois.  She also professionally collaborates with Amy Simon College Consulting in Bannockburn, Illinois. 


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