When the middle-school soccer list came out, I couldn’t find my son’s name. My heart did the giant flip a mother naturally experiences when she anticipates a disappointment on her child’s behalf.
I quickly went into “this builds character” mode, took a deep breath and prepared myself for the conversation ahead. Except, with a second glance at the list, I realized I didn’t recognize anyone’s name on the list. Not surprising, I guess, since they were all pseudonyms.
Turns out that “Johnny Fast” and “Crazy Kicker” made the soccer team, along with about 15 other fictional characters.
“Aidan!” I called out, “What is your fake soccer tryout name?”
I realized in that moment that today’s version of a cut-list is much different than the one I experienced as a wannabe cheerleader, staring at a white sheet of paper taped to the gymnasium window circa 1988. (No, I didn’t make the team back then.) When I finally deciphered the code and realized my son was going to be a soccer player, my motherly instincts immediately extended to the half dozen kids whose names were not on the list.
My first thought? Oh no, I’m sure this meant a lot to Sally Soccer and Baller Bobby. Second thought: Wait! What have we just taught these kids, by using a fake name to protect them from a perceived failure?
I get it. Middle school can be really, really hard. Kids are trying to figure out who they are and find their place in the world. But we’re not doing them any favors by sending them the message that they can’t handle disappointment. Haven’t we learned anything from ourselves and each other? Not to mention the last decade of parenting research? News flash: More than any other skill in life, kids need to know that they can experience difficult situations and still be okay.
Instead of spending 15 minutes helping a room full of kids come up with fake names to avoid disappointment, spend a few minutes telling them that you know how it feels to not see your name on the list. It’s not fun. It’s not easy. But they can handle it.
All of the most successful people in the world have failed at something along the way. Maybe failure will drive them to work harder or maybe it will push them toward talents and abilities they haven’t discovered yet. Either way, we need to empower our children to find those answers and develop those coping skills.
So please don’t tell my kids, “You’re all winners,” when they don’t make the team, because they won’t believe you, and it’s not helpful. Tell them, “If your name is not on the list, I know that’s not easy. If you want to practice more, let me know. If you want to talk, I’m here.” Look them in the eye, call them by their given name and say, “I saw how hard you worked, and I can’t wait to see what you do next.”