Failing to make the cut doesn't mean child's sporting career is over

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 April, 2012, 12:00am


My son is mad about sport and spends most of his spare time playing football. He's desperate to be on the school football team but never gets picked. He's devastated, and I think this is affecting his confidence and enjoyment of school, especially as some of his friends are on the team. The PE teacher says he is one of the better players but not quite good enough. Shouldn't everyone be given a chance?

This situation is unfortunate, as football is obviously one of your son's passions. It must be particularly hard for him if his friends are on the school team.

This can have one of two possible impacts. Either he could be inspired to try even harder to join his friends, or he could get into a negative mind-set and let it affect other aspects of his life, as you are suggesting may be the case.

However, in a similar way as some of the most able and talented students in academic subjects may represent the school in maths, chess or debating competitions, school sports teams usually consist - and quite rightly so - of the pupils who perform the best.

This gives these children the chance to shine and represent their school, just as a talented musician would play in the school orchestra or a confident actor would take a lead part in the school play.

For sporting individuals, in particular, this can be a vital boost, especially if they struggle in the classroom. Success in sport may be one of their few chances to shine.

In a large school, the competition for places on school sports teams can be ferocious. But in the end, a PE teacher has to give places to the pupils he or she feels deserve them.

In any case, do not second-guess this. Ask the teacher what the selection criteria are.

Try to help your son to focus on the positive. He will be getting plenty of social interaction playing football in the playground and after school - having this common interest can be an important social bond among boys. Remember that pupils usually get the chance to play competitive games during PE lessons.

There may also be extra-curricular clubs, summer schools or camps where he would get the chance to compete in different competitions or at least play competitive games against others. This may also hone his skills enough to earn a place on the school team.

You mentioned he loves sport in general. Is there another sport he could excel at with practice? Perhaps he could work on improving his skills in another area.

Most schools have a range of teams that compete against other schools in such sports as cricket, tag rugby, mixed netball, basketball or even rounders.

There has been a general trend in recent years towards encouraging participation in sport for all abilities. In fact some people complain that schools seem to have lost their competitive spirit.

School sports days now tend to focus on team races rather than individual events. Almost gone are the days when the last runner huffs and puffs up to the finish line, his or her self-esteem a mile behind.

This approach does allow the less able children to enjoy sporting activities in an unpressurised and generally enjoyable environment.

It would do no harm to tell the teacher how your son feels and how hard he is trying; simply explain your son's reaction and feelings.

But remember that most PE teachers rarely appreciate parents putting biased pressure on them to include their child on a school team for emotional or self-seeking reasons.

Sport for all is a great concept, but competition is an integral part of sport and life. As parents and teachers, we should help children to accept that they may excel in some things but not others, and teach them the importance of a good sporting attitude and doing their best whether or not they make the school team.

Julie McGuire teaches at an international school in Hong Kong