How can I tell a 12-year-old boy he hasn't really failed, when he's just been rejected for the one thing he wanted more than anything else in the world? I can't. I wish I could somehow come up with the right combination of words to let him know that I still respect and admire the way he gave his best. I want to tell him that he is nothing less because he didn't make the cut. But I can't. I resist the temptation to fib, to say that he was the last one cut, because that may make him feel worse than if he was the first one. So I only tell him to keep working hard, to practice on his own whenever he can, to play in the recreational league and to try again next year.
When I hang up I ask myself whether I've treated the boy as fairly as I possibly could, and I wonder whether I've killed forever his love for the game. I scrutinize and rescrutinize my lists and toy with the idea of giving him another tryout. But that wouldn't be fair to him or to the team; it is only my way of putting off the inevitable. I cross his name off the list, and I hope I haven't ruined his entire year.
Two days later I see him in his yard, kicking with a friend who did make the team. "Hi, Dan," he yells happily. "See, I'm practicing. I'll make it next spring. I know I will. When's your first game? I wanna come watch." I smile to myself. Boy, I hope he does make it next season.