Telling Kids No

Yesterday morning about 75 boys tip-toed into the middle school gym before the opening bell to see if their names were listed on the two sheets of paper posted in the gym office window. The lists contained the names of 7th and 8th graders who had been selected to be on the school interscholastic basketball teams. Seventy-five boys whittled down to twenty-five; and on the other side of the equation, fifty boys disappointed in not seeing their names were in the print.

For most of these boys it was the first time they had experienced, as we said in the old days, “being cut”. We try to tone down the harshness of those words, but kids know. You can hear them say it. They don’t say, “I did not receive an invitation”, but “I didn’t make the team” and “I got cut!”

Since our school, and most of the middle schools around us, didn’t have interscholastic sports last year they had never been subjected to the anxious moments of scanning a list for the heart-throbbing revelation. It will be the first of many occasions in their lives where the risk of a crushing defeat will be situated on one end of the see-saw opposite jubilation. College admission letters, job decisions, and medical school rejections will come in the next decade.

At intramural practice yesterday I had to soften the blow as much as I could. “Don’t give up!” “Keep working!” “If you really love the game of basketball, let us help you develop those skills you need to strengthen.” We said all the words that sought to inspire and motivate boys feeling rejection to not quit their pursuit.

We noticed the few boys who weren’t there. Perhaps they were sick and not in school that day, but there will be others who stop showing up for intramural because, in their minds, they weren’t one of the chosen.

And the thing about Timberview Middle School is that the intramural program gives everyone a chance to play. Interscholastic players are involved in intramurals like everybody else. Intramural runs from 2:50-4:15 and interscholastic practice goes from 4:20-5:45. Most schools do not have an intramural program that gives all kids a chance to play. They have yielded that opportunity to the YMCA or club basketball teams, both who charge substantially more than the slight registration fee that our school charges.

The thing is, a year lost has resulted in stunted athletic development in most of these seventy-five boys. As a long-time basketball coach (25 years), I can see the deficiencies, the fundamental skills that haven’t been practiced or even learned.

My evaluation of players, therefore, covered more than athleticism and skills. Other criteria included academics, coach ability, intensity and hustle, and sportsmanship. Character counted just as much, and probably more, as a kid’s ability to dribble the basketball.

And so yesterday morning there were moans and groans, smiles and high-fives, and everybody went to their first class. No one needed to go see the school nurse to help alleviate an Excedrin headache and, as far as I know, there were no “cut players” who acted out in school that day. The verdict was given and everyone went on with their school days.

Over the years, I’ve applied for five different positions as head varsity basketball coach and not been chosen all five times. Two of the five times I was a finalist, but felt the sting of not being the final pick. As I look back at it now, however, I see the value of having been turned down. Other opportunities I have encountered would not have come my way if I had been the pick in those earlier situations.

Fifty middle school boys probably aren’t ready to hear this, but rejection sometimes leads us to new opportunities.

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One Comment on “Telling Kids No”

  1. Joan Says:

    This was wonderful. Thanks for sharing.
    You were chosen, “for such a time as this.” Just another example of how God works all things together for HIS good. When my boys weren’t “invited” for the basketball team in middle school, they switched to tennis. They got a jump on others in tennis, so they were very good on the high school tennis team. They now have a life long skill that they have also used for side income and for helping others. If they had been invited, they would not have gone that route.

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