For many young athletes not making the team can be one of the most devastating feelings they experience. Getting cut from the team can often hinder athletes from pursuing professional sports. A dream less than 1% of athletes realistically achieve. Trust me I have been there before, most athletes have. It’s normal to ask a young school kid what they want to be when they grow up and their response be shamelessly genuine. “I want to be a professional ______ player.” As a parent, sure you encourage them. Tell them they can be anything they want to be. That’s your job, instill that work ethic and childlike naivety necessary to achieve any dream, really. The job is different for coaches.
From professional teams down to peewee, I guarantee any coach will affirm that “cut day” ranks as one of the worst days of the season. I have been on the player side of cut day, good and bad, but this year was my first time as a coach. It sucks, to put it plain. Think about it with me. I just watched a group of guys tryout for the basketball team for a week. To use a cliche literally, I saw blood sweat and tears throughout the week. As we tested the kids physical durability, cardio, and mental toughness with a series of drills and competitive games. It was intense. The closer we approached to cut day the less sleep I began to get at night, 2-3 hours roughly the night before we would decide on the final team. I assure you the whole process is way worse on the coach’s side. As a player, when you try out for a team you don’t know your ultimate fate until the coach makes the list. As a coach you make the list knowing you’re about to crush some kids dreams. This is where a coach can really benefit from being honest and straightforward.
Make no mistakes, there is no good way to deliver the bad news to a player that they didn’t make the team. However, there are a few good things a coach can do to relieve some of the uneasiness of cutting a player.
1.) Thank the player.
When players try out for your team they are trying to be apart of your potential vision as a coach. You’re already delivering one blow in their eyes by not putting them on the team. Thanking a player for their hard work and effort helps the player build dignity and be acknowledged. More importantly it better prepares the athletes for future professional encounters.
2.) Be honest.
I’ve been cut before, I’ve been in that kids shoes. No kid wants to compete their heart out and not get the truth on why they didn’t make the team. If you don’t think a kid is a fit for your team, let them know. If a kid was not in shape enough to make your team, let them know. If there were simply other players better at the same positions, let them know. Remember as hard as it may be to let a kid down, misleading a player can do much more damage in the future.
3.) Coach Them!
As a coach I’m learning that a player doesn’t have to play for you in order to coach them. When tryouts are over and you have to cut a player how about giving them something they can work on to better themselves. They may not ever play for your team but as a coach you know what can make them a better player. Ultimately that’s what a coach does, anyway. Make players better.
As a coach there will be times when you are the good guy, and times when you are the bad guy. Cut day is definitely one of those bad guy days but that doesn’t mean you can’t make the situation a learning one. As the basketball season tips off I can say I survived my first cut day. While everybody could not make the team, taking time to address the ones who didn’t individually and professionally was a great decision. I never liked the idea of being a “cut list coach.” A coach that post a list outside the locker room. After my first cut day I don’t think I ever will be.