Two weeks ago my son tried out for the middle school basketball team. He didn’t expect to be selected for the team – in fact, he told me that they only chose one or two sixth graders – the rest of the team was made up of seventh and eighth grade boys. His goal was to show the coach that he could play and show the coach his enthusiasm for the game in the hope that he’d make the team next year.
Well, the roster was posted today and he made the team…as the “Equipment Manager.”
Now, you might think, as I did; Wow, he must have really impressed the coaches to be offered a role with the team which was made up of upper classmen and one other sixth grade student. But my son did not see it that way. After being teased by his peers for being picked as the team’s “Water Boy,” he came home nearly in tears. This is one of those challenging parenting moments when your child feels like his entire life and reputation is on the line. His whole world is askew. As he told me, “I tried out to play on the team and I don’t even care that I didn’t make it, but they made me the water boy!” While he doesn’t actually know what the role or significance of the Equipment Manager position is, he is devastated and quite humiliated. So what does a parent do when you don’t know what to do?
After counselling him to seek out the coach and find out what the position was all about (Maybe you’re an alternate! Maybe you’re in a leadership role! Clearly they liked something that they saw in you and want you to be part of the team even if there are no playing spots available! You’re a shoo-in for a spot on the team next year!), he was still unhappy – not because he didn’t make the team, but because he “didn’t apply for this spot and all the other 6th graders were teasing him about being the water boy.”
Then, I explained the concept of internships – sometimes you have to do the junky work, like making copies and filing before you get to the good stuff, he was still not having it.
So I moved on to empathy and a hug. “It hurts when you’re teased. I’ll bet you feel really bad about the whole situation.” That helped somewhat, but he was still feeling “terrible.”
The simple fact is that it is hard to see your kid hurting. If he hadn’t been picked for the team, he would have been ok with that. Or, if the coach had come to him privately and asked him if he would be interested in the Equipment Manager job, it would have been a completely different story. But being publicly embarrassed in front of one’s peers in middle school is devastating – not only for the child, but that parent as well simply because there’s nothing you can actually do to make it better.
Tomorrow he will go to school and ask the coach what’s involved and decide whether or not to accept the job. As he said, “I just have to deal with my own junk. I’ll go talk to him and make a decision.”
True, son…sometimes you just have to deal with your own junk. I think my little guy is on his way to becoming a man.