The Difficulty of Cut Day

By November 8, 2013 6 Comments

Basketball season has started and it’s one of the most exciting times of the year for coaches. For coaches, this is like Christmas. It’s exciting and you can’t wait for it to get here. However, despite all of the excitement, there’s always the one thing we as coaches hate: making cuts. This week we’ll discuss this process and how best to handle it.

Making cuts is a necessary evil that is both bad and good. Making cuts is the worst part of coaching. There is not one coach who likes to cut players. We tend tot think the ideal situation would be having ten players without having to cut anyone. On the other hand I think having to make cuts can be seen as a positive. Why? It shows a good program. When there’s enough interest in a program to have more kids try out than for spots available, it shows something is going right. Kids want to be a part of it. However, that brings the bad. Having to make cuts is something we as coaches dread. It’s part of the job at times but we never look forward to that day. I think there is common misconception with coaches and making cuts from the public. Trust me when I say it’s something we dread, and lose sleep over.

With that being said, let’s discuss the process and what goes into this decision. When shaping team rosters, a decision needs to made based upon what’s best for all. Honesty is the best policy. Sometimes this will allow the kid to make the decision. By the end of the second day of tryouts I always discuss with kids who may get cut where they stand and what type of role they may be looking at. An example would be discussing the possibility that the athlete will put in a lot of practice time and might not get many game minutes. When I’m honest a kid can decide if they want to invest the time, knowing game minutes can be scarce. I believe coaches owe it to the kids to be honest about playing time. This can be hard because we hate to hurt kids’ feelings, but by saying one thing and doing another during the season, we will cause more hurt.

A couple of factors that must be considered when deciding to cut a player are their age, their skill level, and the total number of kids on the team and in the program. I’ll provide insight here as a varsity head coach. First, age is a consideration and any coach who says otherwise is lying. A younger player with the same or higher skill level will always play over an older player who is only somewhat committed. If an upperclassman has a lower skill level than the younger player, it’s best to play the younger athlete for the program’s future. Skill level is a major consideration when making cuts. Does the player’s skill level put them at a competitive disadvantage? By having them on the court, do they present an injury risk to themselves or others? Does the skill level impede the level, quality, or tempo of practice? If the answer is yes to these questions, it’s best to cut the player.

When the decision has been made and players have been cut, coaches need to show the utmost care, concern, and empathy. This is an emotional day for all parties involved. Coaches should never post anything saying, “Here are the players cut.” When posting rosters, simply put the names of the athletes who have made the team. Never put a kid’s name up on a list for not having made a team. Something I highly recommend doing is writing each player who has been cut a personal letter. This is something I do the day the rosters are posted because it’s often too difficult and emotional for the player to meet in person. I have been doing this for many years and have had great success with this. The letter should thank the athlete for coming out, compliment him or her on the positive characteristics they have, briefly explain the decision, and offer an opportunity to remain in the program in some capacity. I’ve been fortunate to work with some great team managers after they have been cut as players, so I always offer an opportunity to help manage if they’ve taken the time to try out.

The worst thing a coach can do is to cut somebody and offer no explanation. If the player is a underclassman, provide a few suggestions on how they can become a better player if they choose to try out next season. I would also suggest offering to have a brief meeting with the player to discuss the decision. Honesty and transparency are the best policies. Another practice I would recommend is having a brief team meeting once rosters have been set. In this meeting I would acknowledge the time and effort of those players who were cut. I make it clear that the athletes who’ve made the team should be proud and also remember they’re fortunate to be here. There are people who wanted to be here and no longer are, so the remaining players must earn it every day.

Coaches, I am always looking to get better. What are some of your best practices when it comes to making cuts? I’d love to hear what some of you do to handle this difficult situation.

As always, thanks for reading, have a great week, and be an RGP today!


Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Lee Becker says:

    Coach Kyle,

    Did not look at it as cutting but rather releasing them to participate in another sport that they were better qualified to play.

    All the best with your decisions – “B”

  • kelmendorf says:

    Great point Lee, love it. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, I appreciate it!

  • Great post again, Kyle. Cuts are the worst days we deal with as coaches. However, I have also changed my tune on them and have decided to look at them as good day, too. I now say that cuts are the worst and best things we do as coaches.

    Cuts are the worst “feeling” thing we do. I hate having to tell kids they are not good enough to be part of something they want to be part of. I only post lists if we have A LOT (15+) of kids to cut. (Haven’t had to do that in the smaller schools in Washington and Montana, but in the large school in the Chicago suburbs I did.) That list would only be the first set of cuts. Once we are down to a smaller number, we bring each kid in to do the cuts. Much like what you talked about, we talk to them about why they didn’t make the team, things they can do to improve for the future, and what some options are for them this year (manager, other sports).

    So how are cuts the “best” thing we do, too? Well, “best” might be an exaggeration, but my point is by making cuts, we are creating the best team possible for us to move forward into the season (not necessarily the best individual players, but the best TEAM). By having to cut kids, it gives us as coaches some leverage to try to instill in kids the idea that they have to put in some time in the off-season to prepare for the season. For many kids, it makes them work harder to make the team.

    Cuts also allow us the opportunity to get rid of attitude problems. While the worst “day” is cut day, a worse “situation” is keeping a kid who has a poor attitude, doesn’t do what he is supposed to, won’t work hard, has grade issues, is selfish, etc. These kids become energy-sappers and team-killers. Cutting them is one of the best things a coach can do to create the kind of team s/he is seeking. I often compare it to removing a Band-Aid from a wound (especially if you have hair on your body!). Cutting kids is like ripping the Band-Aid off quickly – it hurts for a moment (the pain of hurting a kid’s feelings and maybe the possible parent call that night), and then you move on. But keeping that kid is like ripping a small piece of the Band-Aid EVERY SINGLE DAY for the entire season! OUCH!

    I address cuts and how coaches can deal with cuts and playing time issues in my booklet “Playing Time.” If anyone is interested in hearing more about it, they can email me at scott@proactivecoaching.info.

    Thanks, again, for all your posts, Kyle. While I don’t know you personally, your posts show you to be all that is good and right about coaching and youth/school athletics. Hope our paths cross in person some day.

  • Good article with some very solid suggestions for coaches who must cut players. One of the biggest challenges is dealing with players parents when it comes to making cuts. I always suggested to my coaches when I was an athletic director to quantify the tryouts system so that they had data to present to the parents who you know are coming to talk with you. It is infinitely easier to say your son or daughter scored X number of points against the rest of the field placing them 15th in the list of players and I was only keeping 12. All of the coaches who did this while I was in AD made it very easy for me to back the coaches because it wasn’t a subjective decision it was quantified into an objective decision which also gave direct coaching points for future tryouts.

  • kelmendorf says:

    Thanks Scott, I appreciate it. I hope our paths will cross in person as well. You bring up excellent points that are so true. You’re right on about creating the best team possible, while it may not mean keeping the best athletes. I love the band-aid analogy, great stuff. Keep up the great work and best of luck to you and your teams. Keep in touch!

  • kelmendorf says:

    Thanks coach, I appreciate it. You’re absolutely right about parents presenting challenges, especially when it comes to making cuts. You have a great idea with the quantified scoring. I love it. Did you develop for your coaches or did you allow them to create their own system?

    Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!