Tryouts: Coping with Cuts

By Tony DiCicco

The most difficult part of coaching isn't dealing with losses, it's cutting or rejecting people from the team. It's not just a simple matter of reducing numbers, it's a matter of making decisions that in essence short-circuit the dreams of players. I don't think there's any coach, either at the professional level or the youth recreational league in a small town, who doesn't feel the pain of not choosing someone or cutting someone from the team.

Sometimes young athletes put themselves in situations where they say, “If I don’t make it today, I have no chance of ever reaching my goals.” That’s not true and it’s up to parents and coaches to deliver that message strongly and consistently.

Getting cut and having to rebound from disappointment is part of what some great athletes have had to deal with.

When I was cutting players from the national teams, it wasn’t because they were bad players. In fact, they were often very good players. I frequently had to make choices because I felt there were two or three players who were better for a particular position or role on the team. Coaches have to make decisions and players and parents have to understand that putting together a team is a game of numbers, of roles, of needs and responsibilities.

When someone doesn’t make the squad, initially they feel hurt or even angry. It’s regrettable, but understandable. Some players who are cut will use it as a source of motivation for continued practice to get good enough to eventually be on that team. Others will shy away from further evaluation and tryouts because it was such a belittling and scary experience for them.

What I’d like to stress is that being cut from a team is not the end of the world, and it’s not, although it may seem like it at the time, a personal attack. If parents can somehow make their children understand this fact, then it will allow them to move forward – and maybe next time they will make the team.

* * *

As tough as it may be for a coach to cut a player from the team, it’s a lot tougher on that player and her parents. There’s no getting around the embarrassment, the emptiness, the rejection.

The best thing I can suggest to parents is to offer unwavering love and unconditional support. It may seem like it to your child, but the world hasn’t ended and it’s up to the parents to keep the sport experience in proper perspective.

If parents get upset, it will be projected onto the child, only making matters worse.

What isn’t constructive is making excuses for your child by saying it was a political decision or that the coach made a poor decision (which might even be the case). If you make excuses, you’re only teaching your child to deflect responsibility and discount the value of merit.

What you have to remember is that for the most part, coaches really do try to get it right. If there are 20 players on a team, odds are that practically every coach will agree on the first 10 players for the team. And most coaches will agree that the next five should be on the team. But probably more coaches will disagree on the last five players chosen.

Coaches have an image of what they want their team to be, and they’re looking for players who can help them attain that image.

As a parent, you must show love and support for your child, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into judging and criticizing the coach’s decision. If you do, everyone’s a loser.

(Tony DiCicco has coached all ages but is best known for guiding the U.S. women to the 1996 Olympic Gold Medal, the 1999 Women's World Cup title and the 2008 U-20 World Cup crown. DiCicco, the founder and director of SoccerPlus Camps, coached the WPS’s Boston Breakers in 2009-11.)

(Excerpted from "Catch Them Being Good: Everything You Need to Know to Successfully Coach Girls" by Tony DiCicco, Colleen Hacker & Charles Salzberg courtesy of Penguin Books.)

17 comments about "Tryouts: Coping with Cuts".
  1. Luis Arreola, February 8, 2013 at 11:57 a.m.

    So what should be done when it is obviously political ?? No matter how well a parent reacts and helps their son, it doesnt make that political decision correct. The decisions a coach makes in this case greatly influence a child as well and even the overall program. This is what we see too much. When picking players for a National Team, for instance, it is not enough to say, as a coach, I thought these players were better suited, when you are not giving the results. Accountability will force a better effort to either choose the very best talent, rethink selections and non selections, strongly discourage "Politics", better scouting and coaching decisioons. Maybe critisizing a coach's decision is not the answer but if no one else is doing it maybe we should question them to fully understand the mindset and wether or not there are politics involved. When it is clear that politics are involved then it is important to know as a parent and player to change course and look for opportunites elsewhere. When proven that this particular coach was wrong we should highlight it as much as possible and make it public to make people aware of bad judgement, politics, etc. My 2 cents.

  2. r h, February 8, 2013 at 12:07 p.m.

    I have to disagree Tony. Cutting a player is much better than taking them and not playing them. Nothing is worse than riding the bench, it is better to move on to another club, another tryout, another coach - or as you say, train and try again next time.
    For the life of me, I do not know why coaches decide to take a player for a season, and then see them a few times and sit them from then on. It is far better to cut a player, even after the season has begun, and let them go somewhere they have a chance at actually playing soccer. The NTs perhaps aren't a good analogy for this, but even so, not making the WNT might mean going to play in England or Japan on a women's pro team. At least they are playing.

  3. Kent James, February 8, 2013 at 4:19 p.m.

    r h has made a valid point. Coaches might even be tempted to take players they don't necessarily need to keep them from their opponents. After all, it is better for a coach to have a player he doesn't need (especially if players are paying fees) than to need a player he doesn't have, so there is an incentive for coaches to carry more players than they need. On the other hand, some players may prefer to be on the bench of a competitive team, where practices are demanding and the quality of play is high than playing for a team that is not competitive, or where the player is not improving. The bottom line is that the coach should be honest with the player and let the player make in informed decision

  4. Kent James, February 8, 2013 at 4:22 p.m.

    One additional point that DiCicco did not discuss was at what age kids should be subject to the pressures of a tryout. In this area, teams are doing try-outs at younger and younger ages (U9!?), which I think is a step in the wrong direction. While I understand the desire to train talented players, training should be open to everyone, not a select few. At the younger ages, certainly take the stronger kids and work with them separately on occasion, but who is in that group (and who is not) should be very fluid, to give everyone the opportunity to improve.

  5. Luis Arreola, February 8, 2013 at 11:19 p.m.

    Kent, making a tryout isn't really a problem, at least where I am at, since money is always welcome in every except for 2 that I know. One of them is Fire Academy which is free. I have yet o see a player improve on a great teams bench. I don't know if this is good even at U16 or U17 but defenitely not at U8-U14. Why have 5-7 kids on Tue bench in what is most times, the only game of the week? Why do we need to constantly sub in and out players for 15-20 minute intervals? Players should be developed to handle an entire game. Soccer only allows 3 subs. 3 should be most on bench and you can always call up from lower team if needed on players that didn't get much playing time anyway. I know. It doesn't make sense business wise.

  6. Kent James, February 9, 2013 at 2:27 p.m.

    Luis, I think players get better by playing, so generally I'd rather see a someone playing on a weaker team than sitting the bench on a stronger one (which is one reason I understood Donovan's return to the US when he was younger). On the other hand, some players will improve more (or faster) on a stronger team's bench, than being the star of a weaker team. Of course, that depends on the situation at the stronger team; practices have to be more important (or at least a greater part of the development) than games. And practicing hard with a bunch of very skilled players will be better than practicing all the time with players who are weaker than you are. My son went through this; he was the best player on a below average team, and wanted to move to a more competitive environment. I wasn't sure it was the right move, but supported his decision. He didn't get to play much the first year (he was coming off of an injury, but even when he was healed, his time was limited) and I was concerned that the coach was not really giving him an opportunity to play in games (to show what he could do). But he was okay with the lack of playing time, and really liked the practices, and the next year he became a starter and was eventually recognized as one of the key players (and the team was very good). So he really developed into a much stronger player because of that experience. Now had he not gotten playing time the 2nd year, then it would probably not have worked so well. But occasionally being on the bench of a stronger team can be a better situation. But generally, I agree that players need playing time to improve.

  7. Roland Van wyngaarden, February 9, 2013 at 4:03 p.m.

    My 17-year old daugter plays JV in high school. Everybody, including the JV coach say she is ready for Varsity. JV does not pose a challenge for her. She is cut by the Varsity coach who rather selects on last name. Although she rather play Varsity this year, she will quit high school soccer and play for a club. X-treme is too expensive, she says.
    What can I, as her father, do without embarassing her?

  8. Luis Arreola, February 9, 2013 at 4:25 p.m.

    Kent, maybe there are kids that improve this way but I don't see much. I would guess 1 out of 100 from what I have seen. If your son was the best on your team and a bench player on the better team, one or all of few things happened. 1. He was a used a specific way with B level team and it took him time to adjust to a different role. 2. Politics played a factor where the coach wanted to make the statement that B's best player was not going to start on his "superior" team. 3. He has heart and character and made it through. That said, I strongly beleive your son would now be the best player on this new team had he been playing with B level while practicing with the A team. If not the best then defenitely would have made the A starting spot quicker. I started by coaching a B level Park District team where my son was asked to goalie on what is now a #2 team in the nation. They didnt want to train him on the field where he wanted to play. I put my foot down and told them he would play with them only if he was allowed to play for me. They conceded but we later decided to quit them for a while. He has played with many of the top clubs in our area but always with our small club as well. Our small team developed into a Top level team in Illinois with him as the leader as the star forward. Now this same "Nationally Ranked " team wants him as their top forward as do the top Academies in this state. 90% of his initial teammates got recruited by this same Academy team and other top teams after 3-6 years with us. You see my point??

  9. Richard Broad, February 10, 2013 at 1:43 p.m.

    This is a thoughtful, perceptive, sensitive article by a high quality individual with an impressive resume. That it appears as part of a book by Colleen Hacker gives it all the more substance. Anyone who attended either of her sessions at the recent NSCAA Convention in Indianapolis was fortunate. With people like Tiny DiCicco and Colleen Hacker involved with the U.S. Women's National Team, no wonder the American women have been so successful. We could use a few more individuals of their caliber working with the U. S. Men.

  10. Kent James, February 10, 2013 at 3:10 p.m.

    Luis, I agree that playing time is a requirement for development. Practicing with the A team and playing with the B team in games is an ideal situation, but my point was that occasionally there is a good reason to be a bench player for a stronger team (at least for a while). Players need to be challenged to improve, and that may require being a bench player in a good environment. Ideally, I think every player should play in every game (and hopefully in a meaningful way, not a token 10 minutes at the end of the game).

  11. Luis Arreola, February 10, 2013 at 11:13 p.m.

    Kent, of course but in what I have seen being only a bench player on an A team doesn't get you anywhere individually. Our current system is geared toward direct profit from the player's parent. Why can't they at least demand or request dual play to greater development their kids? So the A teams ego isn't questioned? Too many people care too much of what that A team/ Academy thinks or is going to think. If your kid is the best Academies will overlook policies or egos.

  12. R2 Dad, February 12, 2013 at 9:50 p.m.

    I've always thought daylight is the best disinfectant, but coaching decisions are rarely handled that way. I'd prefer that coaches explain the rationale for their decisions. It's entirely possible that the skilled little dribbler or player quick on the ball doesn't fit in with the requirements that a kick-and-run team has (95% of all teams out there are kick and run). It would be better for the coach to come out and say, "I need tall fast runners with no touch, big tall defenders who can kick a long way, and kids who don't mind slide tackling all over the pitch". In that way, players who don't fit the mold will understand their skills don't meet those required. But coaches can't admit that because it would be, um, embarrassing. Not embarrassing enough to change, but they know they should be teaching possession but have no idea how to do that since the coaching licenses they've received are agnostic in that regard.

  13. C Remund, February 20, 2013 at 4:13 p.m.

    Political decisions? All too often any decision a coach makes that a parent disagrees with is made out to be "political." It is the tried and true catch all that can be used around the water cooler, while stalking the touchline, and explaining to a player why he/she was not picked. Rarely is a parent honest about his/her child's ability and attitude. They are even worse about admitting that their overbearing or out of control or toxic behavior may have been a deciding factor. Saying "it was political" is a great way to absolve oneself of any responsibility or accountability. It's also great because these arguments are often entirely subjective and well, who can argue with that?

  14. Dave Garmendia, August 2, 2013 at 12:11 p.m.

    I have been coaching starting at 21 with a youth (u12) hockey team. Now I coach girls varsity volleyball, and I have made one cut in two seasons. It is difficult for me as a father of 3 girls to cut anyone's child. I had the experience of one of my girls being cut in 7th grade from her modified volleyball team. She really loved the game and we found a travel team that she tried out for and made. She didn't play much but got to practice and worked hard at improving. Eventually she mad her HS junior varsity as a freshman, moved to varsity as a sophomore and then received a scholarship to play volleyball in college. I never taking cutting any athlete lightly. Always try to repeat my daughters experience and even my own getting cut from an Ice Hockey All Star team as a U15. I also ended up playing ice hockey in college.

    When I coached Ice Hockey I had 2 brothers try out for an all star team. One brother was a true player the other not so much. I spoke with the father and told him I'd like to offer 1 brother a spot on the team, and that the other brother could play on a B team. I also said I would understand if he chose to keep his boys together on the B team. He chose to keep his boys together and the boy I wanted to kjeep , went on to playing in the NHL. The other brother played until he was 30 on pick up teams.

    Cutting is difficult and not easy but sometimes talented players get cut because of personalities which are fed by over protective parents and coaches. Remember one bad apple can destroy a team's chemistry

  15. Mars Mars, October 10, 2014 at 1:08 a.m.

    That was an excellent article and helpful advice...much needed at the moment for me and my fatherless little boy, who didn't make the team. And better than the "give your kid a hug" and "send them outdoors for sunshine therapy" palaver elsewhere on the net. Thank you Tony DiCicco.

  16. eduardo mateo, March 29, 2017 at 12:41 a.m.

    am a freashman i got cut from my highshcool team but i wont give up Ama show those couches what mistake they did am not a bad player ama show them ama make varcity my sophmore year and i will make it ama train really hard getting cut got me more stronger i am not going to let this get me ddown and ama be stronger than ever becasue if it

  17. uffe gustafsson, August 5, 2019 at 7:48 p.m.

    Small comment.
    most clubs have several teams in the same age group.
    so they will be part of a team, we talking competitive teams that have tryouts. So if you don’t make the A team you will get a team to play with yes everyone want to get into first team and only so many slots to fill. But what I think he is referring to is getting cut from A team and now play for B team.
    that can be a hard blow to take.
    but I mostly coached B and C teams and had many players move on up. They just need more time to developed mentally as well in skills.
    though some coaches are unwilling to “demote “ a player that been on the team for some time, that is a hard thing to do, but then you keep another player that deserve to be part of the team.
    every team should reflect on their skills not who they know or been on the team.

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