Here we are, spring again and outdoor soccer season is just around the corner. For our club’s older youth players, spring means tryouts. Inevitably, tryouts lead to cuts. So since this is my first blog of the new season, let’s dive right in to the good stuff.
Are cuts necessary?
Governing bodies and leagues will have rules around a team’s roster size. For that reason, cuts are necessary. Sometimes there are just too many individuals interested in playing to make it feasible to allow everyone to play. Again, for that reason, cuts are necessary.
If in certain situations they are necessary, then how young should cuts start?
Let me answer that question with two more. If a person gets cut then what are they left with? Do they have the opportunity to experience a level of the sport that is appropriate for their current ability and will help them improve?
If we can show that no player will be left behind by a cut then in theory I don’t think there is an age limit. Unfortunately, the reality is that getting cut usually leads to being left behind. Higher ability level programs usually have the more engaged and competent coaches. Higher ability programs have better training and games because of the higher calibre of players involved. Getting cut can mean that the ability gaps between those cut and those selected only widens. The same group of players tryouts out again the next season and those that were cut are only further behind those that weren’t.
The goal then is to ensure that whatever level a player is at they get the best experience possible. They get the best opportunities to still improve and have fun. They get the best chances to tryout again the next season and make the higher level team. Fear of getting cut should not come from a fear of being left behind.
But aren’t cuts emotionally damaging?
They certainly can be. Do an internet search and you will see that there are no shortage of results — both subjective and objective — of the negative effects of being cut from a team. Having said that, you will also find plenty of support for the benefits of helping children learn to deal with failure. I certainly am one of those folks who wants to normalize failure. Helping our members understand how important it is to be exposed to failure and to work through that failure is a key element of the Club’s technical direction. So it isn’t failure itself that players (and their parents) should fear. What’s more important to mitigating the potential negative effects of cuts is how an organization handles whatever cuts have to be done.
If we have to cut, what’s the best way to do it?
First off, I will say the Club is working to limit the use of tryouts. We do not use tryouts at U11 or younger. From U13 up to U18 we are working to implement strategies to ensure that the process of trying out is fair, transparent and emotionally safe. When making cuts, there are trade offs. There are the things that can be done that make the cut player feel acknowledged and respected and then there are the things that make the coach making the cuts feel comfortable. Unfortunately, what is good for the cut player isn’t necessarily good for the coach making the cut.
With that being said, here are some of the things that we are doing or moving towards doing.
Expectations: We are trying to establish program expectations that help our members see the differences in required commitment, ability level, costs and so forth. In doing so, we are helping our members to find a program that matches their ability and willingness level to participate before they get selected to a program that they might realize isn’t for them. We will also communicate up front our assessment and tryout processes and make sure it is clear to players what the expected standards are.
Immediacy: We want to let cut players off the hook quickly by not making them wait for the news.
Privacy: We want to ensure that a cut player hears first from the coach and/or club and not from anyone or anywhere else.
Feedback: We want the cut player to understand why they were cut and what they can do to improve.
Encouragement: And we want to help the cut player move past the disappointment of the moment and look towards the future.
Now, we aren’t doing all of these things yet but we will be working towards them as we are committed to changes that further align us with our Club’s values of safety (physical and emotional), fun and challenge/learning for all players.
Bring on the season!