Boy cut from varsity teamFor decades teens have proudly adorned their team jackets with them. Oh, that varsity letter and its prestige! However, many teens who enjoyed playing a sport at a young age don’t make the varsity team when they get to high school. Is this the end of their sports career—or a new beginning?

Rest assured, there are options that provide many of the same benefits as varsity sports—such as learning to work as a team member and building new friendships. All a teen needs is the passion to participate and the will to remain involved.

Cuts Hurt

Being cut from the team can be devastating to a teen’s self esteem. Not big enough? Not strong enough? Not fast enough? Parents and coaches can help soften the blow.

Jan Drucker, PhD, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Sarah Lawrence College, says it’s imperative for parents to have the right attitude from the start. “Helping a teen handle being cut from a team ideally starts years earlier.” She explains, “A parent who supports participation in sports but does not push her child and get overly excited about wins will set the stage for less excruciating bad feelings much later, when there is failure.”

Parents can help their teen put this failure in perspective. Drucker says, “Supportive parenting means empathizing with your teen’s feelings while leaving your own feelings of disappointment or anger aside. It isn’t helpful to reinforce feelings of failure or to be Pollyannaish in dismissing the disappointment.” She suggests parents facilitate a positive conversation about the experience, asking their teen what he feels he has accomplished in the process, what skills he has gained, and what he enjoyed about trying out. 

Steve Ettinger, a soccer coach and author of Wallie Exercises (Active Spud Press, 2011), knows how much being cut hurts. “Tryouts are a very tricky and sensitive time of year for coaches, parents, and athletes. When a teen doesn’t make the team, he will inevitably feel any combination of hurt, disappointment, and anger. There are several factors the coach should take into account to make the process better for everyone. These might include keeping results anonymous, giving everyone equal time to prove their worth, and suggesting alternatives for athletes who might not make the team.”

Moving Forward

So she didn’t make the team. What’s next? Teen athletes need to experience their frustration or anger, find acceptance, and move forward.

Ettinger says, “If they’re serious about continuing with the sport, the best option is to ask about a practice team. Cuts are usually made because of limited roster space, but the size of the practice squad is usually up to the discretion of the coach. The athletes will get the same training, and their dedication and perseverance will show the coach that they’re a great fit if a spot opens up.” Also, some sports, such as gymnastics and diving, offer the option of teams putting up exhibition athletes. This is a great choice for athletes who want to improve and try out again.

Athletes can also try something new, transferring the skills from one sport  to another. Football players who aren’t big enough, for example, might try wrestling or lacrosse. Sports such as biking, martial arts, rock climbing, and hiking may provide individual competition without team cuts. Also look into what’s available in community leagues, Ys, and your local Boys and Girls clubs.

If your teen no longer wants to compete, a management position might be an option. Helping at games or meets as a scorekeeper or judge’s helper can lead to a future coaching or officiating job.

Athletes of all abilities can become coaches, judges, and trainers later on. If teens realize that a cut from a team doesn’t ban them from their favorite sport for life, they’re more apt to take the disappointment in stride. 

Extracurricular Activity Options

There are many activities that don’t involve a bat, a scoreboard, or a net, yet still allow teens to have a ball. Consider some of these:

  • Music, art, or drama lessons
  • Community service
  • Chess clubs
  • Enrichment classes (foreign language, cooking, etc.)
  • Yoga, tai chi, or tae kwan do
  • 4-H activities; for options in NJ, visit

Myrna Beth Haskell is a features writer and columnist specializing in parenting issues and child and adolescent development. She’s the mother of two teenagers.