What Happens to Friendships When a Child Leaves the Team?

Children—and parents as well—can develop close bonds when taking part in a youth sports team. Countless hours are spent together with teammates, but what happens to the friendships when a child leaves the team?

Well, that depends greatly on the reason for leaving, and whether or not it was a graceful exit.

Was the child not invited back? Did a parent’s feelings get hurt? Was an ego bruised? Was there a conflict between coach and child, or coach and parent? Did the dispute get personal or highly emotional? Was the change driven by a parent wanting a different skill level or change of environment for their child?

There are certainly many reasons why team rosters change. Unfortunately, changes can often stir emotions, especially among parents who are investing considerable time, money and emotional energy into their child’s team.

So, whether it’s your child leaving or another child moving on: What happens to friendships when a child leaves the team?

Scenario 1: Outgrowing the Team or League

Your little one joins a group of friends. The team has players at all ability levels. Unfortunately, there is also a big gap in behavior as well.

Your child enjoys his friends and loves the game but is frustrated by all of the goofing around. He wants more, so you have two choices: keep playing for your rec team and double up with a select team; or leave your child’s friends behind and move onto a select team full-time.

Chances are the rec team was made up of kids from your school or neighborhood. That being the case, most friendships will remain, although the dynamics may change.

Be careful. There may be some snarky comments made along the way (directly to you or when you are not around) especially if you drove the decision, or if your child clearly isn’t ready for a higher level of competition. Unfortunately some parents can be petty.

If your child is moving along, stay humble when speaking to other parents or posting on social media. Also, be sure to tell the coaches directly of your decision at appropriate times. Even if it was a less-than-ideal scenario, be grateful for their time and dedication to your child and the team. If coaches hear of your decision from others, you may damage the relationship.

Scenario 2: When the Coach Cuts a Player

Usually your child’s first team is a “no-cut” situation. Inevitably, they move onto a team that does make yearly cuts. These types of teams often extend further than a school or neighborhood, and the whole family invests lots of time and money. It’s a commitment.

When the season ends, sometimes the coach decides there are some players they simply don’t want back. Whether it’s because their talent is not developing at an adequate pace or their behavior—their talent was better than some or many teammates, but they were disruptive—there is a chance the coach will cut them loose.

Preserving friendships in this scenario is quite challenging. Parents take the cuts personally. So do many of the kids. At best, a few friendships may remain for either child or parent, but many will disappear.

Scenario 3: Team Hopping

It used to be that for many years, kids would stay with one organization. Now in a culture of rapid change, kids frequently hop from one team or organization to another. There are always “greener pastures.”

Quite often the change is prompted by ego, playing time and perceived injustices. Reporter Luke Winn of Sports Illustrated analyzed transfer and commitment patterns of top high school basketball recruits. Among his findings:

  • From the most recent three classes (2013-15), 5 percent of players attended multiple high schools.
  • The more a player transferred in high school, the more he did the same in college.
  • Players who went to one high school transferred 28.6 percent of the time in college, while players who attended four high schools transferred 65.4 percent of the time in college.

When the focus is always on looking for something better, loyalty and friendships take a backseat.

How to Deal With The Changing Relationships

When a decision is made to switch teams, a parent can help preserve some of the friendships if they are open and honest with the coaches. Just leaving – and not thanking anyone or communicating with other parents – can result in some bitter feelings.

A simple phone call, text or email can make all of the difference in the world in how the athlete’s departure is perceived by players and parents.

Silence on the way out can hurt others’ feelings and be a friendship-killer, so keep humility and communication in the forefront of your mind if you are approached with any of these scenarios.

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