Coaching tips

COACHING TIPS: Do You Cut Upper Classmen to Build with Younger Players?

Here’s a coaching dilemma that I have heard about many, many times in recent years.

In short, as a HS coach, do you deliberately cut junior or senior players – players who admittedly are only marginal players but were good enough to make your team – in order to make room for some potentially talented freshmen players?

There was a time in which HS coaches rarely, if ever, allowed a freshman to make a varsity squad, even if they were amazingly talented. In fact, very few sophomores made the varsity.

But times have changed, and coaches today — especially coaches who are new to a program – are eager and ambitious to make their mark in a hurry. Thus, like a college or pro team which is rebuilding with an eye towards the future, more and more HS coaches are looking over their roster and deciding that, “Y’know what? I don’t think there’s enough talent at the junior or senior level to make this a very competitive team….so I’m going to let those kids go and start with the freshmen and sophomore players, and build for the future.”

That, of course, is the coach’s decision…but unlike the pro coach or even the college coach, there’s some real concern at the HS level. Is it fair to dump a kid who has worked his tail off to make your team for the last few years, only now to be told as a senior he’s no longer good enough? Is that fair? Is that right?

On the other hand, by the time you get to the varsity level, isn’t it all about the best players making the team? And if the coach thinks a freshman is more talented than a loyal senior, well, good bye to the senior.

That approach — for  better or worse — definitely seems to be in vogue these days.

As you might imagine, a lot of people – mostly parents – think that’s wrong. They ask: “What about loyalty? Coach, what kind of message are you sending out? Shouldn’t HS seniors get some respect for their effort and maturity?”

More and more, the answer is no. HS coaches will often go to a senior athlete and explain to them: “Look, you’ve been a mainstay on the team for the last few years, but you’re old enough now to see that basketball is not going to be in your future….as such, I hate to cut kids, but I do need your roster spot for some younger players.”

It’s a cruel conversation. Sometimes, the coach will tell the senior that “you can stay on the team, but understand that you will rarely, if ever, see any playing time.” In short, the coach allows the kid to cut himself.

That’s even more cruel.

Or…the coach can keep the talented freshman on the freshman or JV team, and keep his current varsity team in tact.

What you would you do? Or perhaps, this kind of situation has happened to you or one of your kids? Let me know with a reply.

Personally, I would keep the seniors on the team, and let the freshman play on the JV….but as the year develops, if the frosh shows real talent, and the varsity does only so-so, I would seriously think about bringing the kid up from the JV towards the end of the season.

Yes, winning does become a top priority at the varsity level, but I also feel strongly about taking care of those kids who have worked their butts off to stay within the program.