Imagine being in third grade and, after multiple weekends of organized, strenuous tryouts and the anticipation of possibly making the “A” team, or at least one of the two “B” or “C” teams, you are told that you’re not good enough to play travel soccer at all. All of your friends make a team, and you see them arrive at school in their matching travel soccer jackets, giggling about what happened at yesterday’s practice. Even though you enjoy the sport, you stop playing altogether because of your disappointment about not making the team.
Selectiveness Outside of the Sandbox
Often, experiences students have with childhood athletics play a large role in influencing their decision to pursue a high school sport. At a very young age, the selective nature of the Scarsdale travel teams has the potential to affect students’ confidence in their athletic abilities.
Many students credit positive childhood experiences with athletics as determining factors in their decision to play sports at SHS. “I think that without the whole travel soccer experience, I wouldn’t have pursued soccer in the high school. And then Little League… was a fun experience, so it made baseball seem fun. That’s why I [play baseball] in the high school,” said Vincent Gandalfo ’13.
On the flip-side, students who were cut from travel teams recount that it was a difficult trauma to cope with as a young child. “[Being cut] definitely hurt because there were a lot of kids on the teams, and it wasn’t a good feeling to know that I just wasn’t as athletic as the 60 or so kids who made it,” said Sam Cannon ’11, who was cut from the travel soccer team in third grade. “When they asked me to play because another kid dropped out, I was almost hesitant to because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to anymore. I sort of felt spurned by the program,” he added.
SMS Physical Education and Health Department Chair Robert Keith understands the disadvantage of having a negative experience with childhood sports. “It can have a damaging effect on the confidence level of a kid if he gets cut early from a travel team…. He or she may not feel confident with his or her abilities and not further pursue that sport,” he noted.
What Doesn’t Kill You…
Some of the students who were negatively impacted by the travel sports program chose to quit certain sports as a result of their experiences. “I stopped playing soccer. I never really liked it, but I just tried out because my friends were doing it,” said Corey Baumer ’12. Baumer noted that, “regardless of if I didn’t like it or not, if I had made the team I would have played.” As Talia Visaggi ’13, who played travel soccer, recounted, “many of [her] friends tried out for travel soccer and a lot of them didn’t make it and many of them stopped playing.”
In other cases, students who were initially cut worked to overcome their disappointment and continued pursuing that sport. For Max Grippo ’13, being cut was an incentive to improve. “I wasn’t that great [at soccer] when I was younger, so after I was cut I decided to get better, so that I could make the team,” he said. Grippo continues to play at the high school level. Some of these athletes were even able to achieve considerable success at the sport. “I was cut from the C team, then I made the C team, and made my way up [to the A team] and I’m planning to play soccer in college,” said Cannon.
While being cut decreased some students’ confidence, making a team has resulted in increased self-esteem for others. “[Being cut initially from travel soccer] definitely helped me to develop my skills,” said Jon Geremia ’11. Sarah Cromwell ’12 noted that, “what kind of athlete you were affected your self-confidence, because if you were really good you’d make an A team.”
Some parents and administrators in the community feel uneasy telling a young child that he is not as good as his peers at the tender age of eight. Yet each year travel team coaches are forced to distinguish among those trying out. “I think the fact that a certain percentage of the grade is told that they’re not good enough at a certain sport isn’t necessarily the right thing…. It’s kind of demoralizing,” noted Michael Lu ’12.
SHS parent Danny Bernstein, the owner and creator of the Scarsdale-based youth sports program Backyard Sports, explained that, “A travel team tryout to a child is no different than a job interview. In both cases, one’s talents and abilities are being judged by an outsider.” While no one enjoys hearing that they aren’t good enough, young children have greater difficulty with it. “Where a mature person hears, ‘my talents don’t suit your purpose at this present time,’ a child only hears, ‘I am not good enough,’” he added.
Live and Learn
Nonetheless, many consider that limiting the number of children allowed on a team is an unavoidable feature of certain types of teams. “When you have a selective team, for younger children and other athletes, you have to put a cap on it, so a cut is almost a necessity,” said SHS physical education teacher and assistant Varsity Football Coach Devin Hoover.
Educators and coaches in Scarsdale believe that confidence is affected in many ways, and being denied the opportunity to play on a team is only one factor. They highlight other, perhaps more subtle, ways in which teams may shape a young athlete’s experience. “In my personal opinion, you run into problems when you have too many travel teams. When you have A, B, C, D travel teams or A, B, C… and then you don’t make any of them or you make the C team, then that kind of stratifies you at too early of an age,” said Keith. Hoover noted that he has “also seen kids who have made the team who have had such a negative experience… that that has thrown their confidence.” Keith agreed, saying, “it’s really a deeper issue than whether you got cut or made the team.”
Cutting Out the Competition
Some members of the community have considered ways of creating a less competitive and more supportive environment for youth sports. SMS physical education teacher and SHS Varsity Swimming, Wrestling, and Golf Coach Barney Foltman suggested that students should “have the appropriate skills and techniques taught so that they could bring those skills to a JV or Varsity team. That would be a great way to bridge that gap without having it be competitive, emotional stress.” Bernstein has developed programs that do just that. “We at Backyard Sports recognize that competitive sports is a lifetime pursuit and athletic careers don’t end in middle school and high school. We build the love and passion for the game which will ultimately keep [our players] in the sport longer,” he said.
In recent years, certain youth sports programs have also become less selective in order to prevent young children from experiencing the devastating effects of being cut from a team. The travel soccer program, for example, no longer cuts elementary school students and will rarely ever cut athletes in the middle school. “Now we keep kids involved as long as we can in the elementary school, and then in middle school we often are short of kids, so we need players,” explained current Scarsdale Youth Soccer Club President and SHS parent Stephen Tatz.
While many SHS students have felt the impact of being perceived as a good or bad athlete as a child, many also acknowledge that these perceptions need not have been so influential. “The problem with youth sports and the separation between youth sports and when you get to the high school is that so much happens to the individual athletes as they grow and mature. The player who was exceptional in youth sports doesn’t always translate to an exceptional adult or young adolescent competitor,” explained Hoover.
Along with maturity and skill, an athlete’s work ethic evolves as well over time. “There are other high schools that, right now, [the SHS football team] notoriously [doesn’t] compete well against. But, when we played against those same athletes as youngsters, we were totally tough,” said Hoover. A lot of athletes have achieved success in sports that they were not good at as a young child. “Michael Jordan got cut from his JV basketball team… Probably he wasn’t there yet, and we know what happened after that,” added Keith.