GETTING CUT FROM A TEAM: What Parents — and Coaches – Need to Know

FOR THE PARENT….

I want to discuss difficult moments in an athlete’s life when – as the Mom or Dad – you find yourself on the spot to have to say the right thing – to find the precise words – to talk with your son or daughter when things aren’t going their way.

We’re talking about key or crucial conversations – and every sports parent has them.

For example, what do you say to your youngster when they don’t make the cut for a travel team?

What do you say if they just played a terrible game – maybe even let in the winning goal, or gave up a major turnover, or made a key error?

How do you handle these kinds of delicate situations – whether your kid is 8 or 18?

As a parent, do you simply say nothing – and just let your youngster vent?

Or if they’re saying nothing, should you try and get them to talk?

Do you try and minimize the impact – maybe even talk about something else on a different subject to just lighten the mood?

Or do you take a different tack – and express your anger – no, not at your kid, but rather at the coaches who ran the program and decided against your child?

Because while I know there is no specific right or wrong day to handle these kinds of delicate conversations, I do know that for a kid who loves sports, these are critically important moments in their young lives.

FOR THE COACH…

I’m also eager to find out more about how coaches implement their cuts these days.

Over the years, I have heard all sorts of complaints about how coaches give out the bad news to kids. Traditionally, back when I was in school, a coach would simply put the names of the kids who made the team on a roster and would post it on the bulletin board in the gym. I can still remember having my heart in my throat as I approached the list to see if my name were on it.

But these days, things have changed. Sometimes, the list is posted on a website, so that the youngster doesn’t have to feel  or experience the pain in public if he or she isn’t on the list. Some coaches feel that is somehow more humane.

And some coaches – especially at the youth level – will tell kids after try outs that they will receive a phone call that night if they made the team. That of course is most barbaric as a young kid will be waiting and waiting for a call that isn’t coming. And then it’s up the parent to console the child.

Other coaches will have all the kids who are trying out simply line up, and after a short speech in which the coach says something like “We had a lot of talented kids try out this year, but unfortunately, we are limited by the number of roster spaces, so if you don’t hear your name called out, thank you for your time and effort.” And then the coach proceeds to read out the names of the kids who did make the team. The others who didn’t hear their name are left to look around at each other, and just…leave.

Look –  there is NO one perfect way to cut kids from a team. But as a former coach myself, I always felt that if a youngster had worked hard in the tryouts and had been serious about making the team, if I had to cut him, I always took him into my office and explained to him why he wasn’t making the team, and gave him specific feedback on what he did well, and what he needed to improve upon.

These conversations didn’t last more than 10 minutes, but I felt a sense of obligation to give him a chance to ask questions and to react in private.

I was gratified to receive a number of calls from coaches this AM on my radio show who said that’s exactly what they do. They make the time to talk with each kid who is getting cut. The coaches find the kids respond better and that fewer parents call to complain.

Now, I recognize that as a coach, if you have dozens of kids trying out and only a handful will be selected, well, you’re not going to be able to talk to each kid who gets cut. But as you get deeper and deeper into the rounds of making the team – and the numbers winnow down – then yes, I do think it’s important to give the kids who get cut some positive feedback, a pat on the back, and some real instruction on what they need to work on.

THE NUMBER TWO COMPLAINT….

It won’t come as a surprise to you that the number one complaint that sports parents have is “my kid is not getting enough playing time.”

But the number two complaint is: ”My kid tried out and got cut….and it’s just not fair.”

That is one very difficult moment. For everyone involved.

It happens. It’s part of competitive sports. Not everyone can make the team and that’s the reality. But what do you say or do when it’s your kid?

The sports world is full of stories of top name athletes who got cut during their careers, but then, somehow, they rebounded and continued with their sports. So how do we as sports parents and coaches make sure these young people bounce back and are able to move on.

What did these parents and coaches say to these kids to encourage them to keep playing?

Just a quick refresher: Michael Jordan cut as a sophomore from his HS basketball team. Steve Young, the Hall of Fame QB, was 8th string at BYU, and didn’t even dress in uniform for home games as a freshman – and he certainly didn’t travel with the team for away games.

Jose Altuve, when he went to try out for the Astros at a try out camp, was told he was just too small to ever get a chance to play pro baseball. NFL running back Danny Woodhead set all sorts of rushing records in HS in Nebraska but was told he too was too small to earn a scholarship at the Univ of Nebraska. He went to a D-II school instead where, yes, he set all sorts of rushing records.

Sure, we all tend to focus on those gifted athletes who are seen as being superstars by the time they are 10. But the woods are chock full of athletes who were cut….or told they weren’t good enough…or that they were too small.

But somebody along the way must have said something to these athletes to help them find their way.

Whenever my own kids got cut from a team,  I made a conscious effort to first give them some space and then, most importantly let them talk. Let them vent on about their frustration, how they thought the coach liked them, or how they felt were definitely better than other kids on the team.That’s okay….let them get it out of their system. You don’t have to say much. Just be sincere.

And then, after the angers and tears subside for a day or two, then I would ask if they still want to play that sport. If yes, I would make my task to find another league or outlet where my youngster could play. In the end, in my experience, it’s more that the youngster wants to play on a team and have some fun and feel good about themselves. I just always felt that I wanted my kids to determine when they would decide to walk away from a sport, rather than having as their last memory the sting of being cut by the coach.

As noted, the reality is that kids do get cut in sports. But if there is a way to soften the blow, I think that’s key for both the sports parent and the coach.