Archive for Getting Cut

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


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.

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GETTING CUT: What Today’s Parents Have to Keep in Mind

As we enter into the cooler months of the school year, that means that active try outs for basketball and ice hockey teams are looming. Both sports tend to be very competitive in terms of eager and hopeful kids who want to make the squad, especially in the middle school, travel team, or high school levels.

But here’s the problem. With both of these popular sports, making a team is extremely competitive simply because so few kids can play in a game at a time. In basketball, of course, only five can play. With ice hockey, there’s the goalie and five skaters. True, at least with ice hockey, skaters constantly go out and take the ice in short shifts during a game for a minute or two, but even then, very few hockey teams carry more than 15-16 players. And with power plays or penalty kills, it’s usually only the top or more talented players who grab the lion’s share of playing time. Everybody else on the bench sits and watches.

And with basketball, the coach usually plays his or her top five boys or girls in much the same manner. The other kids sit on the bench and wait, hopefully to get a few minutes of playing time.

Mind you – these are the kids who made the team. Every kid on the squad has talent, and had to perform well during the tryouts to be good enough to make the team. So while they’re focusing on what they can do in practice to gain the coach’s eye to get more playing time, at least they’re a member of the team.

But what about the kids who don’t even make it that far? What happens to them?

In other words, what happens to those who get cut?


For some, especially at the younger ages, say 9 or 10, trying out for the team and not making it is disappointing, but perhaps not crushing. They like the sport, but they fortunately have other interests in life that they move on to.

But for many others, especially for those kids who love basketball or ice hockey, not making the team at an early age is not only devastating in its impact, but it often puts them in a difficult dilemma, e.g. do they keep on playing that sport? Do they just give up? What do you say, as a parent, that is the right mix of encouragement as well as reality?

And of course, how can it be fair for a kid at 10 years ago to be seen as not being on the fast-track, like one’s friends? So many kids go through adolescence and then go through a major growth spurt that it’s unconscionable (and unbelievable) when they’re 18 to think they were cut as a youngster. Even worse, sadly, too many kids, when cut at an early age, just decide to walk away from the sport and vow never to come back to it.

To me, this is all a horrible shame. And it’s something that never happened to aspiring athletes a generation ago, long before there were travel teams and modified teams. In those days, kids (and their parents) really didn’t have to deal with the excruciating agony of try outs until, perhaps, the kid reached 9th grade. By then, by age 14, most kids are pretty well versed in their self-assessment, and they can see for themselves how their athletic talents compare with their peers. But at age 9 or 10, kids just don’t have that cognitive ability.

It’s often observed that as time marches on, we make more and more progress in our society. But when it comes to youngsters in sports and seeing their dreams get crushed when they get cut at a young age, I really feel we’re going backwards.

TRENDS IN SPORTS: To Succeed in Sports, One Needs Talent AND Practice

A few years ago, there was a major bestselling book that came out entitled TALENT IS OVERRATED by Geoff Colvin, a well-known columnist for FORTUNE Magazine. The general theme, as you might imagine, is that talent isn’t necessary if you want to seriously improve and master a skill in life. Colvin talks about the importance of serious and deliberate practice if you truly desire to improve your skills. Along the way, he sprinkles in several case studies, and of course,discusses the need to put in 10,000 hours of concentrated and deliberate practice into making real improvement. I have no issue with any of that.

And for many readers and especially sports parents, this book helped to justify a life lesson that they have always felt. And it’s a lesson that they have passed onto their kids: that if you want to achieve a goal badly enough, then you just need to practice and practice and practice.

But the problem is…that’s just not true. Or at least as it applies to young athletes.

 Yes, if you practice your dribbling, or fielding a baseball, or shooting free throws, YES, you will improve and get better.

BUT  here’s the important catch: you will only get as good as your inherent God-given ability is.

In short, we are limited by what our innate talent is, and our talent will dictate just how far it will take us.

Let me give you an example:  when I was a kid, I played a lot of basketball, and I used to try and improve my leaping ability all the time. I would practice endlessly on a basketball court, hoping someday I could be good enough to dunk a basketball. I remember even wearing ankle weights for a full year to improve my leg and calf strength.

And indeed I did add some a couple of inches of height to my jumping. That was due to my endless practicing. But try as I might, I could never jump any higher. And of course, there was no way I could ever reach the jumping heights of a Michael Jordan. It just wasn’t in my genes.

No matter how long or how hard I practiced, I realized it wasn’t going to happen. I just wasn’t wired, or born, that way.  I reached my limit and no matter how much I wanted to jump higher, or how much more I practiced, I had topped out.

It’s the same with trying to throw a pitch 90 mph, or hit 400 foot homers or any other elite athletic skill.

Now, most kids discover their limits on their own. But sadly, a lot of them –whether to please one’s Mom or Dad or even to impress their coach –these kids just  continue to practice and practice. After all, they have fully accepted that if “I want it bad enough, I can achieve it through more practice.”

Coaches know all about this…because every coach has seen first-hand kids who are determined to make the team and to be a starter, but the coach can plainly see that while the kid has the drive, hr or she just doesn’t have the ability.

It’s hard and heart-breaking to cut a kid like this, but that’s the harsh reality of sports.

My suggestion? Yes, explain to your youngster that if they want to improve in sport, there’s no substitute for practice and more practice. That’s essential.

BUT you also need to caution them that practice will only let them reach their God-given plateau of ability…that is, they may peak in HS, or on a travel team, but only a few lucky ones who were born with extraordinary athletic ability will make it to a college team or beyond. They need to be warned that just more practice will not necessarily push them higher and higher into the collegiate or pro ranks.

This is NOT meant to discourage your kids from trying to achieve is to reach their full potential athletically. You want them to do that. But as one caller commented on my radio this AM, the aim here is for your athlete to “be all that they can be.” 

That catchphrase is right on target. Let them reach for the stars, but if they are meant to top out in middle school or high school, or wherever, that’s fine.

GETTING CUT FROM A TEAM: Always a Difficult Moment for Athlete, Coach, and Parent

There are very few moments as potentially devastating in a young athlete’s life than trying out for a team and not making the final roster.

Of course, when kids are first introduced to youth sports, everybody who tries out for the team makes the team. That’s a given in pretty much every youth sport.

But once a kid is a few years in – sometimes as young as age 7 or 8 – suddenly tryouts begin to pop up on the horizon, and kids now find themselves auditioning to be one of the lucky ones to make the “prestigious” team. As any parent who has lived through this will tell you, the tension of watching your little one go through the tryout process is matched only by the anxiety and frustration if your child doesn’t make the team. That is, what do you tell an 8-year-old who doesn’t make the local travel soccer team, or hockey club?

Is it possible that an 8-year-old is already a “has-been” at that young an age?

But for better or worse, our athletic society is constantly filled with tryouts and attempts to make the team. Most parents are already familiar with the horror stories of having their youngster try out for a travel team, only to discover that the team’s roster was already pre-selected by the coach who runs the program. That of course is not only not fair and unethical, but it places the parent in the awkward position of trying to explain to their child that the try outs were not done in an equal manner. Kids at age 10 or younger can’t usually understand that kind of underhanded play.

But let’s say that the try outs were fair, and that the coach was doing his best to evaluate the talent honestly. If, at the end of the try out sessions, the coach decides that your child isn’t going to make the squad, it’s always preferable if the coach can find the time to sit down with the youngster, explain what specific parts of their game they need to improve, give them a real pat on the back, and encourage to work hard and to try out again next year.

There’s no good way to give a kid bad news, but this personal approach is probably the best. Remember, Coach, for a youngster, not making a team will put them in an immediate awkward position with their peers (especially if some of them DO make the team), it will embarrass them in front of their expectant parents, and all in all, will be a devastating blow to their self-esteem.

The very best coaches know this, and as such, work hard to express compassion and sensitivity to the athlete. Yes, this one-to-one approach does take time, but remember, in a few days, you and the excited kids who did make the cut will be focusing on the upcoming season. For the kids who didn’t make the team, their plans are dashed, and now they have to figure out what’s the next move in their young lives.

One of the callers on my show today suggested that in order to avoid cuts, because he hates them so much, he invites only 15 kids to be on his elite travel baseball team. That’s one approach to get around cuts, but I do wonder as to what happens if one or two of those 15 kids isn’t as good as the others. Do they get relegated to the bench, and subsequently less playing time? That has the potential to cause even bigger issues during the course of the season.

Another caller suggested there are other programs where there’s a no-cut policy. That is, every kid who tries out makes the team, but there’s never any guarantee of playing time. So a kid can go to practice every day, and tell his friends he’s on the team, but never, ever see any playing time.

To me, that’s not fair. Coach, just cut the kid. If you allow him to linger on, he will keep alive the flicker of hope that, somehow, he will catch your eye and get some game action. You’re better off asking the youngster if he can find some other outside activity that might appeal to him. Remember, there’s no dishonor in being cut. Every athlete goes through the process at one time or another.

In my next column, I will address the role of the parents when their kids are cut from a team. As we all know, parents have become a real force when it comes to intervening with coaches.