The Necessary Evil

Cut  [kuht] – (verb) – to separate from the main body, or to abridge or shorten.
But, when it comes to athletics, perhaps this is a better definition to use:
Cutting  [kuht-ing] – (adjective) – wounding the feelings severely

I think it’s important to point this fact out first: nobody likes the process of cuts.  Kids don’t like knowing that they might be told they aren’t good enough; parents don’t like knowing that their kids might not be good enough; and coaches HATE having to tell kids who are motivated and excited about playing that they aren’t good enough.  For our sports that cut, I can say without hesitation that cut day is one of the toughest of the season on everybody.  So why do we have cuts?  I’ve explained our reasons in depth with this post about competitive levels, but I’ll summarize briefly again.

– We still have some responsibility to our public and our community to build the most competitive team we can.  That means that we need to get our kids as good as we can get them, put our best kids on a team together, and coach the heck out of them.
– We can only effectively instruct a finite number of kids.  Much like how a math classroom with 30 kids would be tough, we can’t expect a basketball coach to effectively teach 20+ kids on his/her own.
– Related to that idea, we could take on more kids by adding more coaches and competitive levels, which, of course, would cost us more.  Earlier this year, I ran a rough budget of what it would cost for us to add a second JV hockey team (our highest cut sport).  It would cost roughly $15,000 per school ($30,000 total) for us to add coaches, equipment, officials, and travel.  In our world, that’s a pretty significant number.
– In many sports, I’m not sure who we’d play if we added a level.  We currently offer the same number of levels as other schools in most sports, so we’d have to get creative to find opponents.

That’s the short version.  So let’s address the effects of this and how we can deal with it.

Coaches – just be honest and professional in dealing with the kids.  You know that they don’t want to hear that they’re cut, but it’s better to be open and honest about why they are being cut.  If there’s something an underclassman needs to improve upon, tell him/her.  If it’s a senior who just isn’t talented enough to help the team, tell him/her.  It will be a tough conversation, but being blunt and honest is the best way to move forward.

Parents – cuts are probably tougher on you than on the kids or the coaches.  Quite frankly, cuts suck for parents.  In the past few months, I’ve seen various versions of the same sign floating around the interwebs:
parentingposterI get that’s it’s tough for parents.  When your kid gets cut, it’s easy to take it as a condemnation of how you’ve raised your kid.  As I’ve mentioned before, much of your kid’s ability to play sports occurred at conception.  (In one of my worst – or best, depending on who you ask – moments as an AD, I once told a dad that his kid’s best shot at a college athletic scholarship was to have more athletic parents.  I’ll admit that it was a frustrated cheap shot on my part; it had been a long, tough conversation to nowhere leading up to that point.  But, back on track…)  It’s ok if your kid isn’t one of the best players in the school.  Help them find other stuff that they’re good at.

I like to use math to prepare parents for the inevitability of cuts.  For example – my oldest son plays hockey at the Mite level.  After their regular season, they were given the option to play for another month as part of a brief travel season.  Sixty kids decided to keep playing – 4 teams of 15 kids each.  Our teams were out of town last weekend at a jamboree where I heard one parent make the comment about how cool it will be to see these kids playing together on their high school teams in the future.  Here’s where math comes in handy to cushion the blow of future cuts.
High school varsity teams can only roster 20 players.  We have two high schools, so we roster 40 varsity players each year.  That means that in 9 years, even if (IF!) our varsity teams were made entirely out of seniors (which would be these Mite kids in 9 years), there would still be 20 kids from the current Mite teams who won’t make our high school teams.  Add to that the reality that there will probably be 60 travel mites next year and 60 travel mites the year after that, and we’re looking at a MINIMUM of 140 kids in that three year span who mathematically can’t make the varsity teams.

That’s the main reason why I don’t/won’t encourage kids to specialize in a sport.  Unfortunately, because of the hockey culture in our town, many of those 180 kids are going to specialize in hockey in an attempt to make the varsity team and/or earn the ability to play college hockey.  It’s important to remember that your time and money commitment is for your kids to participate with the chance to improve; it’s not a guarantee of anything more than that.  I repeat: the money and time you’re spending on youth sports is buying nothing more than the opportunity to participate with the chance to improve.  Even if 180 hockey kids in town all spend $6,000+ in the next five years on camps and club teams, we can still only roster 40 varsity players.

Kids – how will you respond to being cut from a team?  I think it’s fair to assume that you will be sad/mad to some extent depending on your level of commitment to the team.  Getting cut from the team, much like being assigned to a smaller role on the team, isn’t an indictment on you as a person.  How you respond to getting cut, however, will speak volumes about who you are as a person.  If you’re an underclassman, will you actively seek ways to get better at the skills you’re lacking?  If you recognize that you lack the natural ability to advance in this sport, will you actively seek something else to do to represent your school?  If you’re an upperclassman, can you still actively support the team in some other manner?  Can you lend your knowledge to the younger kids to improve their abilities or their experiences?  Can you use this set back as an opportunity to become a better, stronger person for the future?

Want more reasons for staying involved with the team despite being cut?  Check out this fantastic article from High School Today.

What are your thoughts?  What did I get right?  What did I get wrong?  Send your thoughts via Facebook, Twitter, email, or comment to the post.

9 Responses

  1. Eric Polries

    I can speak from experience about being cut from a team. At 5’7″ and with minimal basketball skills (or offseason training) , I progressed from an 8th grade starter, to a 9th grade bench warmer, to a 10th grade cut basketball player at MPCG High School (not that we had great teams or anything at MPCG) :). I was devastated. I took out my anger the only way I knew how. I ran. And ran. And ran. It is still how I deal with issues and challenges in my life. I run from them. It is my release. Getting cut in a way was a blessing. I feel it helped me get a jump on my high school and collegiate running experiences by pounding the pavement the winter of my sophomore year and summer leading into my junior year. I have mentioned before how I specialized in running in high school, and wish I had broadened out to things like wrestling, and that is true. However, the way I responded to getting cut was beneficial to me. I had to look for the silver lining I guess.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      …and those Patriots are right back into the state tournament this weekend – with a former Burro at the helm!
      Excellent perspective. Granted, you and I played high school sports before the youth club craze exploded, but you found another avenue. Thanks for sharing that!

  2. Great blog as always Mark! I think about getting cut from our younger Legion baseball team as a 14 year old. They only kept 3 fourteen year olds on the team and I wasn’t one of them. I played that summer in PD baseball, but being cut led to me starting to play golf regularly, which I love now. I also am able to play golf at a greater regularity as an adult than I ever could have played baseball. There are silver linings in these situations.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      Great example – you both found another place to play baseball and learned how much you enjoy golfing. Put that together with your participation in basketball, and you gave yourself a ton of chances to have fun while competing. Thanks for the comments!

  3. Pat Rosenquist

    I played hoops at Central in the late 90s and made the 16? man JV/Varsity roster as a junior. We practiced together but coach only dressed a certain amount of guys for varsity and I was relegated to JV for games. Typically a few talented sophomores were brought up from the sophomore level to fill out the JV roster. I’m not sure how it is now, but back then Central had an A and B freshman team, a sophomore team, a JV team and a Varsity team. Coach Olson liked to keep a tight bench so I think only 10 or 12 guys dressed varsity. With the success of Central basketball in 1996 my anxiety level rose every year trying to make the team. My senior year it was simple math. A few guys had shot up and gotten better between their sophomore and junior years and our seniors ahead of me were very talented. It was varsity or bust and I was certainly on the proverbial bubble. I knew I had the opportunity to play college football the next year at the D3 level and was under prepared strength wise, but basketball was my favorite sport to play and still is. I sat down with Coach before tryouts and had a frank conversation, he was blunt with me about what any potential playing time would be, and I was cerainly not delusional about that, but a spot on the team was yet to be determined, thiugh the odds were probably less than 50%. I loved the travel, the games (even when my playing time was limited) and even practice, but ultimately opted to lift weights and try to get stronger for football. Unfortunately, I knew before the season I was going to get beat out by two guys that wouldn’t make it through the season because of various infractions, but barring any screwups prior to tryouts they would beat me out. Well, the inevitable happened and I don’t think either one made it through the whole year. Their spots were probably better reserved for a talented sophomore than me, but it hurt nonetheless. I regret not going through the tryout and finding out for certain, but I was glad that I knew where I stood for the most part.

  4. Had a high school hockey coach in his second year who cut three seniors and instead kept 3 sophomores for his 4th line so they could develop faster on varsity vs. the JV team. He basically admitted post-tryouts that he was looking beyond the current year. I’m all for coaches fielding the most competitive team possible, but at what cost? In this particular case, 3 seniors had their dreams of playing varsity hockey for their school crushed. However two year later (those sophomores now seniors), the team made the state tournament, so perhaps the approach was justified.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      Of all the kid related conversations I have with coaches, this is usually one of the most difficult. If a senior and an underclassman are of equal ability fighting for the last varsity spot, who should stay? I don’t know that there’s a right answer to the question. If the senior has only had a luke-warm commitment, it becomes a little easier to keep the underclassman. If the senior has been a tireless worker/leader, it becomes a little easier to keep the senior (especially if there are plenty of minutes still available for the underclassman at another level). Scenarios such as yours that involve more than just a couple kids make the decision even trickier.
      Speaking from a public perception standpoint, it’s a no win situation. If you keep the underclassmen and they under perform, the coach is an idiot for not keeping the seniors. If you keep the seniors and they under perform, the coach is an idiot for not developing his underclassmen. Tough call either way.

  5. Boomer

    Cuts made based on ability are one thing those made based on politics are completely something else! Around here players who play travel ball get free rides onto the HS teams while those who play rec are second class citizens. Seen kids with much better skills cut while others who are part of a clique are given opportunities based solely on the name in their back!

Leave a Reply