Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Youth Sports: How to Leave a Close Knit Team

Group hug after winning a tournament
A team that works hard and plays hard together can become a family of sorts. Both the kids and the parents form bonds during the season(s). This is especially true for travel teams.

The kids build relationships on the field, at team parties, in the hotel pools, lobbies and elevators during overnight trips. (I'm not sure why kids love elevators so much.)

The parents build relationships in the stands during long practices and games, at team parties and while drinking cocktails around the hotel pool or bar. (I do know why parents love bars so much.)

Most team parents are ready to lend a helping hand when another parent needs assistance. Driving some other parent's kid to and from games and practices or feeding a hungry kid whose parents couldn't make the game or running to get ice for an injured kid besides your own are all part of family aspect of a close team. All of these actions make the bonds stronger.

So what happens when a player and their family choose to leave a close knit team? Well, there seems to be a lot of guilt involved. For some the guilt is so strong that they stay on the team against their better judgement. Then during the next season they act irrationally seemingly hoping they get kicked off the team. For others the guilt makes them avoid the truth or conversations with friends or coaches. Some handle this situation with class and others with utter disappointment and embarrassment.

Here are my thoughts - Tips on how to leave a team:

1) Gather all the information you need to make the right decision for you and your young athlete.
2) Write your thoughts down on paper - Organize the pros and the cons and review them in your mind.
3) Seek the opinions of people you trust to make sure that you are making a rational decision. (I would be cautious if you seek the opinions of other parents on the team - no one likes a complainer.)
4) Then, make the decision that you think is best for your kid and do it with your head held high. There is no reason to feel guilty, especially if your motivation is to do what is best for your kid.
5) If you decide to leave the team to join another team, let
the coach of the team you are leaving know as soon as possible so that the coach has time to find a suitable replacement. If you don't do it for the coach, do it for the other players and parents.
6) Throughout the process, be transparent - this can be difficult to do especially when you do not know if another option is locked. From my observations, if your kid is a featured player and you have been supportive parents you will be invited back without reservations even if the coach knows that you explored other options. If your kid is not the featured player that you think he or she should be then being transparent with the coach may help you improve the current situation or will prove your point.
7) Do not burn bridges with other parents or the coach of the team you are leaving. If your kid is a strong player, you will likely be challenged by other parents and the coach to stay. In this case, remain professional and just keep reminding yourself and any challengers that you are doing what you think is best for your kid. Typically, there are only a few top level programs in an area, so if you do not burn bridges on the way out, you'll leave the door open to come back if you discover that the new team is not as good as advertised.

Good reasons to leave:

1) To get exposure to a better coaching staff. If the new team can help your kid develop the technical, tactical, physical and emotional side of the game better than the current team the switch.
2) To save money. Travel teams are expensive. If you are leaving for this reason, ask the coach if there are financial support options offered by the club or league.
3) To put your kid in a more visible program to better position them for a college scholarship. Some programs are more connected than others.
4) To go to a team that is more serious or less serious - depending on your situation. Both reasons are valid.
5) To go a team that will be more fun. It is hard to fully commit yourself to something if you are not enjoying it. Make sure your kid is enjoying the situation.

The Main Point

Do what is right for your kid and your family, just do it respectfully. And make sure that what you are doing is truly right for your kid and not for your own ego.

A while back, my daughter wanted to leave one of her teams. She wanted to leave because one player was making the experience unfun (not a word). The kid in question, who was extremely talented, would degrade teammates and played selfishly. These actions frustrated teammates. The dad of the kid in question was very close to the coach, so I hesitated approaching the coach. Instead, my daughter and I quietly looked for other options. After talking to other parents on the team, I found out that other kids were feeling the same way and were quietly looking for other options too. Luckily, the kid who was making the situation unbearable decided to leave the team abruptly. Afterwards, I found out that the coach was feeling as frustrated as the players and their parents. We should have been more transparent sooner.


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