Being cut from a team sucks. I know from experience.
My Dad got the call late at night and broke the news to me the next morning at breakfast. I was 13 at the time but can still remember that gut-wrenching feeling. And it was almost, if not equally, as hard on my Dad to be the messenger.
Despite the awfulness that is cutting, or non-selection, could there be a best practice, or dare I say, positive way to go about it?
According to Dr. Lauren Sulz, Assistant Professor, and promoter of school-based physical activity, there are four factors that can improve the experience of being cut for everyone involved:
- Immediacy. Eliminating wait-time between tryout and decision is courteous and preferred.
- Clear expectations. Being upfront about decision-making procedures ahead of time helps to eliminate any guessing games during the tryout period.
- Privacy. Informing athletes in a quiet and mindful setting is likely the most important factor during non-selection.
- Encouragement. Providing suggestions for continued participation in the sport can motivate an athlete to maintain their development.
Despite these strategies, making cuts is never an easy thing to do. Dr. Sulz and her team of researchers gathered information from young athletes who had previously been cut from a sports team and “proposed ways to help fine-tune player-coach discussions.” Kids recommended stating the tryout outcome at the beginning of the conversation, as opposed to the end, and providing specific reasons for the decision being made. Practical advice, both verbal and written, is also important for athletes to remember what was said during the meeting. Lastly, youth can be quick to perceive an unchangeable personal attribute, such as height or weight, to be the reason for non-selection. It’s crucial for coaches to provide actionable feedback that players can work towards.
While it seems like the practice of cutting is here to stay in sport, Sulz’ study investigates the youth experience and seeks to make it more respectful, fair, and supportive. Her suggestions can turn a perceivably negative experience, in which kids drop-out of sport, into a positive and encouraging practice.
Thirteen years later I can look back at my own experience of being cut and use that wisdom to make a better moment for another athlete some day. I can respectfully say that there will be no telephone messages or Cheerios involved.