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athletic support by eli cranor Athletic Support: Freshmen don’t make varsity, usually
May 21, 2021

Eli Cranor is a former professional quarterback and coach turned award-winning author. Please use the “Contact” page at to send in questions for “Athletic Support.”

Dear Athletic Support: A lot of basketball trainers/AAU coaches preach to these kids about being on varsity as a freshman. It seems that you can have kids work super hard and there can be variables that the player can’t overcome to achieve that goal. I have witnessed and have seen kids that felt let down when they don’t make the cut. It lowers their self-esteem too. These players have worked super hard, but when they don’t make the varsity team they just can’t understand why. I wish the trainers and coaches wouldn’t set this as a goal. I’ve also seen some seniors that have put in four years of hard work and still sit the bench all the time, while freshmen are brought up to play varsity. Anyway, just curious what you thought.

— Curious Parent

Dear Curious: I answered a question recently about why so many kids quit when they make the transition from junior high to varsity athletics. Basically, I argued parents were giving their kids an out and allowing them to quit when the going got tough. But here’s the straight truth — being a freshman is tough!


Because there’s a huge disparity in maturity and skill levels between ages fourteen and eighteen. This is a transitional time for kids, and everybody matures at their own pace.

I’m not just talking armpit hair and pimples — their game also matures. We’ve all heard the story of Michael Jordan getting cut from his high school team, which isn’t actually true, by the way; Jordan was just demoted to jayvee for his sophomore season. But the lesson remains: If MJ didn’t make the varsity squad his sophomore year, what does that say for the rest of us?

It says hard work pays off.

I know, that might sound cliché. But listen, hard work is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Everything is just faster these days. We live in an instant society, where most kids greatest goal in life is to go “viral.”

So how do we teach them to slow down?

It starts with the coaches and the trainers you mentioned in your question. It starts with you, too. All of us are so focused on the result, we’ve lost sight of the process.

Seven-time-national-championship-winning coach Nick Saban has a mantra that goes, “Do your job and trust the process.”

What Coach Saban’s getting at here is that there will always be things you cannot control. Athletic contests are wildly complex. The outcome of a game can be altered by something as inexplicable as wind direction, or lately, a star player catching a virus.

When it comes to freshmen players not making the varsity team there are, of course, factors outside of their control. Going back to MJ’s sophomore year; the reason he didn’t make varsity had less to do with his skill set and more to do with his height. MJ was passed over for a 6’7 sophomore center.

But he didn’t quit, and that’s why we’re still telling his story today.

If you’re enjoying “Athletic Support,” please take a moment and send in a question. All questions are published anonymously.

Previous columns:

Kids have changed, haven’t they?
Esports and disc golf bigger than football?
Little pitchers have big ears
Pregame music offensive
Fouls in girls basketball
Red Shirting
Coach makes political post
7th grade girls basketball woes
Multi-million-dollar buyouts don’t make sense
Private schools have the upper hand
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Athletic Support Columns 2020

Outside of athletics, kids’ brains are also at risk. Who knows what sort of impact virtual learning will have on their cognition and critical thinking skills. In this regard, I offer one simple tool — a good book! And luckily, I know just the book for kids struggling with the shift to virtual learning:


books make brainz taste badOkay, you caught me… I’m the author of this book. It was published last week and awarded a #1 New Release ranking on Amazon. BMBTB deals directly with the same topic covered in this column, except in a much more lighthearted, kid-friendly way (zombie teachers and brain-munching screens!)

If you end up purchasing this book for your children or grandchildren, I only have one final suggestion — ask them to read it while standing up!

Eli Cranor's new book Books Make Brainz Taste Bad has just been released. ZOMBIES HATE BOOKS! Especially the zombie teachers at Haven Middle School. That's why they're using VR headsets to fry kids' brainz. Luckily, Dash Storey knows how to save his classmates from the zombie teachers—BOOKS! They make brainz taste bad!

"Eli Cranor has an almost unbeatable advantage. He can remember how it felt to think like a twelve-year-old and he can see the very same events like the adult he is. Don't try to resist this book!"
- Jack Butler, Pulitzer-Prize nominated author


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