Rules of Disengagement: How to Cut a Player

As kids move from the ‘all-in’ developmental house leagues of youth sports into the more competitive realms of travel leagues, AAU, high school, etc., cuts become an inevitable part of the process. How a child is cut is just as important as why they’re cut.

For many kids, being cut from a team is the first such occasion where they get a taste of failure at something they enjoy (i.e. it’s not the same thing as scoring a poor mark on a school test). The child enjoys or even is passionate about the sport, but for one reason or another – slow physical maturation, poor skills, etc. – she is not chosen for the team.

Some kids take the news with a grain of salt. They may be sufficiently aware that other kids trying out are better than them, or their parents may already have been preparing them for the possibility of not making the team (always a good idea).

Others, however, can be devastated by the news. Which is why the ways in which these kids are cut can go a long way in determining not just how they approach that particular sport in the future, but how they deal with similarly competitive situations.

Here are 4 important rules for cutting players.

#1 Be Direct

Even at a young age, most kids understand that the team is more important than the individual. After all, any child on a playground has experienced the waiting game of being picked for a team based on size, speed, ability.

So kids will respect and understand the decision to cut them (even if they don’t necessarily agree with the decision). But they’ll also want to know why, and in a way that is direct. ( )

By being honest with a child, you improve the odds that he and his parents will consider the club in the future (remember that children’s bodies change rapidly, and today’s cut may be tomorrow’s star player). And in the word of mouth reputation of youth sports, it also tells the community that the club is respectful and, as such, a good choice to coach and participate.

#2 Keep It Confidential

A coach should never announce a roster move in front of the entire team. Instead, the player should be pulled aside and told the news. This is important for two key reasons: first, it is an unfortunate irony that kids’ peers are becoming more important to them at the same age that cuts are becoming a reality; and second, it can soften the blow if the cut wasn’t expected.

Once the move has been made, the player can choose whether or not to discuss the details with her friends. In short, leave the announcement to the child.

#3 Be Prompt

Once the decision has been made to cut a child, as the Nike slogan says, just do it. In youth sports, there often are other options – house leagues, for example – that the child still has time to join. Or, at the high school level, it’s possible he can try for a different sport or extracurricular activity.

Don’t string the child along – if he has no hopes of making the team, let him go so he can find an alternative.

#4 Express Gratitude – and Hope

Involvement in sports and other extracurricular activities is good for kids, communities, and the nation at-large. Which is why it’s always important to thank a child for taking the time and making the effort to try out. At a minimum he will come away from the experience feeling appreciated and with a recognition that this is the proper way one treats candidates (sports, jobs, dating, etc.) that ‘don’t make the cut.’ (

At the same time, it’s also important to tell the child not to give up. Kids’ bodies mature at different rates and some who make today’s roster, won’t tomorrow, and vice versa. So remind the child you are cutting that with time, effort, and commitment, all things are possible.

The bottom line: while most coaches would love to keep everyone who tries out, it simply isn’t possible. Not everyone is good enough to play for a particular team, is a good fit for a particular coaching system, or if retained, will do anything more than ride the bench.

But as with so many other coach-player engagements, cutting a player offers an important life lesson that will impact that child for years to come.

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