Sedaka was wrong — breaking up is NOT hard to do. There are plenty of ways to break up. Easy and quick ways. Down and dirty.
Here’s the thing, a coach and an athlete, no matter how long they’ve known each other, have a relationship. And ending that relationship can be easy. But doing it with class, respect, dignity — now that is hard to do.
I say that because so many coaches end relationships in rotten ways. I know because I’ve been cut from more teams than I want to remember.
This is all about rejection. You run a tribe — in this case a sport team — and for some reason you’ve decided Jack or Jane can’t be part of it. I’ve heard it called roster-adjustment, or squad-size reduction, or player reallocation. All gobbledygook. A cut is a cut is rejection.
Cuts are actions coaches have to take. It’s part of our business.
You have a relationship with an athlete. It might be short, like a one-day try-out. Or, the athlete has been on your team for years. Possibly its your own child. Regardless, there’s a relationship. And it has to end, or at least change.
Cuts happen. Lousy t-shirt saying, but its true.
Even coaches of “no-cut” teams have to make cuts. Stop shaking your head — they do. The athlete who is destroying the team culture, who is a distraction, who is having academic trouble may be asked to leave. That’s a cut. That’s rejection.
Why this is worth writing about? Because coaches have to select and craft a team and rejection/cuts might be part of that process. And cuts leave an impact. If done poorly that impact can be long, nasty, negative.
I’ve been on both ends — been cut and had-to-cut. Both sucked.
Yet those times I was cut helped form my coaching philosophy. No good memories — but important ones.
- Article: Helping Coaches Make Cuts – David Hoch
As I thought about all of this, I flashed back to all the different ways I’ve been rejected — cut from teams, didn’t get the job, membership ended. There were a pile of them. A few of the rejections were dignified, most were not. Here’s a brief rejection-summary:
The Break Ups
A) Posted On The Board
I learned I did NOT make the high school football team when the list was posted on a bulletin board. That was tough. All those fingers going down the list with eyes over their shoulders. Everyone and anyone seeing who did/didn’t make it. I didn’t even get to see the list, someone in front yelled the names. REJECTED BY A STRANGER YELLING. It would NOT have been any better if the list was posted on a door, taped to a locker, in a trophy case. Public display of a cut is salt in the wound.
B) A Proxy Cut
There’s a knock on dorm-door, a team captain is standing there. “Hey, I’ve got some bad news. Coach told me to tell you that you did not make the team. Thanks for trying out.” REJECTED BY A PLAYER. Why did this happen this way? I don’t know. Maybe lazy coach, or he had a sick child. Either way, not very courageous on the coach’s part. Probably hard on the captain. Second thought, I don’t think it was.
I applied for a coaching job. I was stoked. It was early in my career and the job would have been a perfect next step up the ladder. After the interviews I waited to hear back. And waited. Days passed, then weeks. I called the interviewer, left a message, no response. Same with the athletic department secretary, and assistant AD. Total silence. REJECTED BY SILENCE. I dunno, maybe I did get the job and they’ve been paying me these past thirty years. I wonder what our record is? I look forward to getting that paycheck.
D) Bar The Door
When I worked at a big state university I applied for an academic committee. Seemed like it would’ve been fun. Its mission had something to do with improving relationships between academics and athletics. Went to the first meeting but when I got to the building the doors were all locked. There was a sign on the door that the meeting was inside, but there was no way to get in. The next day I called the meeting chair, “Oh, we did met. But unfortunately you missed the first meeting so you can’t be on the committee now.” REJECTED BY LOCKED DOOR. Hm. Needless to say we never saw any good come from that committee.
E) In Public
This was simple, and deserved. In the middle of a basketball practice a player was screwing up. Not making mistakes on the court; but instead, y’know, pulling the tomfoolery stuff behind the coach’s back. Coach spun around and caught him in the act. I could tell it wasn’t the first time. Probably the hundredth. Coach yelled, “Grab your things and get out of my gym! And don’t come back!!” REJECTED AT VOLUME 10. By the way, looking around at the other players as the athlete left I could tell they were fine with the decision.
E) Not Renewed
I once belonged to an environmental group. I was a member for years and then the renewal forms stopped coming. I forgot all about it for a year then checked to see if they were around. They were still saving the Earth. Months prior I had stopped donating since I was cash-strapped, and they were getting too radical. They probably sensed I stopped drinking the coolaid. Or was it a mail glitch? Doubtful. I’ve moved on now, and seems they had to. REJECTED BY NO RENEWAL? Maybe.
F) Clipboard On The Ground
This didn’t happen directly to me but did to a friend’s daughter. She found out she was cut from a field hockey team at the end of try-outs. The coach gathered the team around, tossed a clipboard with roster on the ground at their feet, and then walked away. REJECTED BY CLIPBOARD. Sigh.
G) Over The PA System
I tried out for the musical Oliver. Lots of kids did. We had to get up on stage, sing a song, and move around. I’m sure I was lousy. The cast was announced the following day over the PA system during morning announcements. They announced those who tried out, and then those that made the cast. REJECTED BY MORNING ANNOUNCEMENTS. I’m not kidding. High school was stressful enough. That was the last time I’ve sung in public (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I’ll admit).
H) All The News
Middle school — actually back then it was called junior high. Tried out for Little League, or Babe Ruth, or whatever the version of baseball was in our county. They announced the rosters in the weekly newspaper. I can still see the details on page 17, after 45 years. Every word. Didn’t make the team. REJECTED BY NEWSPRINT. I didn’t pick up another copy of that paper for years.
“Thank you for your recent application. We have had many fine applicants. One of them has accepted the position. We wish you the best in your future endeavors.” REJECTED BY USPS. Enough said.
I) In A Group
I stood to the side of the group. 20 top American rowers who had been trying for days/weeks/years to make the Olympic team. Today was the selection day. The coach stood on the side, clipboard raised. One by one, as he read the names, some rejoiced, some slumped. REJECTED IN PUBLIC. Those who were cut faded away like survivors voted off the island. The selected athletes went off to practice, the others packed up and headed home.
A Kinder Cut
All those cut scenarios have one thing in common — lack of direct contact between coach and athlete. Here’s one time I was cut and it was a good experience.
College freshman year of rowing. We were getting ready for our first race. Coach pulled me aside, looked me right in the eyes, and told me with warmth and kindness that he appreciated my efforts, saw I was trying, but I didn’t make the top squad for this race. REJECTED BY A HUMAN. But … then he told me I had potential, to keep working, things will come around. He was right and they did. It was rejection smothered with encouragement. See the difference? It was and is huge.
I’m not advocating that you do, or don’t, make cuts. It’s a topic of controversy in coaching. However, the fact remains that coaches do end relationships.
- Article: Comparing Records Of Boys Sports Teams That Cut Players vs. Those That Don’t – Brendan Ferguson
Action You Can Take
When you wear your coach-hat you are a relationship wizard — both in cultivating relationships and in ending them. Not an evil-wizard but a kind, good-hearted one.
To help you be this wizard there is a question you need to ask when you are ending or changing a relationship — did it happen with:
There’s too much at stake to do it differently.
Here are a few guideline I recommend:
- Publish team expectations and guidelines before the season starts. Here is an example of doing it well.
- Have a meeting ASAP once the decision to cut someone has been made. Don’t string people along.
- Be thoughtful of why the person is being rejected. (talent, size, etc), and be sensitive to those reasons.
- Inform with dignity and class (eye-to-eye/face-to-face).
- Answer questions. If they ask, answer.
- Be prepared for rebuttal.
- Offer or inform them of alternatives. What other activity can the athlete do? An athlete cut from one sport might be exceptional at another.
- Don’t meet alone. Have another adult with you, for your protection and to help explain things that you might not be able to clarify.
- Have a record of why the cut was made. Is there evidence to support your decision. Write it down BEFORE the meeting.
- Article: How Coaches Can Handle Tryouts And Cuts – Joe Scalley
[Click here to listen to the audio version.]
There’s more to this, I know —other things to consider, other ways to make cuts. Have suggestions? Email them to me here, or join me over at LinkedIn. I’d love it if you shared this article with other coaches, I’d be honored actually.
Coach well … we need ya!