Published as a Varsity Letter column in Wootton’s Common Sense newspaper
Call participation awards the downfall of youth sports all you want, but the truth of the matter is that the ability to participate is what allows sports to be so enjoyable. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, the brotherhood and sisterhood of unified teams, the long-lasting friendships- sports makes all of these possible for a wide variety of people. Winning is fun, but it is the ability to take the field and compete that makes sports special.
At certain levels, the opportunity to play must be restricted, with the school’s varsity teams serving as a prime example. When the number of roster spots is limited, only the best players make the team. And that makes necessary one of the cruelest parts of sports- cuts.
I hate cuts. They are sports’ equivalent of the guillotine, the instrument of death used during the French Revolution. In one swift cut, they efficiently and impassively end the hopes of the players who didn’t have what it took to move on. No matter how close to making the team, the punishment is equal and impersonal. The white paper with neatly printed names, but with one name too few, haunts athletes everywhere.
Cuts are unavoidable in competitive sports. They are present at every level, from high school all the way up to the pros. To all the athletes who have dealt with or will deal with not making the cut, here’s some advice from someone who’s been there before- keep your head up.
There are athletes in every sport who spend countless hours and incredible effort practicing and bettering their craft. All those hours of practice can make getting cut a painful and emotional experience. But sports, and ultimately life, is about reactions, how you respond after getting knocked down, and champion athletes stay positive and use adversity to their advantage.
Getting cut can spark future success in two ways: it can motivate athletes to better their games or set an athlete on an entirely different path. Some of the greatest athletes of all time, such as Michael Jordan and Peyton Manning, were cut, and that chip on their shoulder pushed them to become the best that they could be. Sometimes cuts push an athlete in a new direction. Getting cut may close some doors, but it can also open others that can turn out even more rewarding. I learned that lesson firsthand a couple years ago.
The lowest point of my athletic career was getting cut. In eighth grade, I had my eyes set on making the Frost basketball team and I practiced on a nearly daily basis. I didn’t even make the first cut. When I didn’t see my name on the sheet of paper, it felt like a dagger going inside me, and in every passing hour it seemed to twist more. But through that disappointment, I saw clearly that my future wasn’t in basketball but instead in distance running, which motivated me to pursue cross country and track as my main sports. I’ve been on those varsity teams for three years and have competed in state championships, something I wouldn’t have imagined back in middle school. So while I point to the basketball cuts as the worst experience of my career, it may have also been the most valuable.
For the athlete who tried out for the team and didn’t make it, I commend you. You put yourself out there at the risk of failure and gave it your best effort. If you persevere through the tough times and don’t let your failures define you, I expect that soon your trophy case will store more than just participation awards.