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.




    I used the exact approach that you mentioned in the article, when I took my first high school varsity coaching job. I blended the better underclassmen into the varsity program as the season progressed and this seemed to work to the benefit of everyone. One other thing that I did and I still do today in my AAU basketball program, is that I pair retuning upper classmen with younger players and this buddy program also works not only on the court but off as well. I have had many girls come through my program who were benched and stuck out their senior year, while the coaches played incoming freshman , so that they would not leave for prep schools, or who were recruited to play and the parents especially , did not want the player to earn their time. This past season , two of my girls who were told that they would be sitting their senior year, if they stayed on the team, because they did not have the talent to play at the next level, according to their respective coaches. They completed our AAU season and both walked on at their respective colleges and have just completed their first season of college ball. And yes, they both saw time on the floor throughout the season. I think that coaches who toss out their seniors, are short sighted in that they also toss out a valuable resource. Younger players can learn and grow as well if not better at a lower level( JV ) and mature as players and individuals without the pressure of varsity competition and be successfully integrated into a program, for the mutual benefit of everyone. Coaches have to pay respect to the efforts of the upper classmen in making a program work over the long run. Another great topic which often is ignored. Phil Cortina Hamilton NJ