By Bruce Brown
The beginning of a new season brings so much excitement and then reality sets in. Some young athletes have to be told that they will not make the team. All coaches of significance get into the profession because they like young people and are trying to help them. You get into the profession to help kids, not hurt them. But cutting is part of the job for many sports: basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball, dance and cheer. Some decisions are easy, and others are more difficult.
- Low skill and poor attitude – easy – remove
- High skill and great attitude – easy – keep them and move them into leadership positions
- Low skill and great attitude – try to find a place and a role – they will help your team
- High skill and poor attitude – this is the tough one
Trying to compare and assess talent is not always easy, but it can be done. We must try to give kids a fair chance to show what they are capable of performing against the available talent. Cutting for attitude is a different story. Attitude is actually easier to see than talent. But cutting based on attitude can be much more difficult because it often means getting rid of a talented performer who violates your team values. The selfish selective participant is often a very talented individual who uses his or her talent when it benefits them.
Recently, a young coach had to make a decision about whether he was going to keep or eliminate a young man who had proven to be untrustworthy. The coach had done the right thing by working with the young man year-round, trying to get him to understand the “core covenants” of the team. The coach had very clear behavioral expectations that would allow his team to reach its potential.
The young man had repeatedly violated those expectations and standards. He continually arrived late or missed meetings or practices. He always had an excuse. He treated teammates disrespectfully, was lazy, acted out in negative ways, reacted poorly to referees decisions, and was in trouble in several of his classes. Two weeks before the season was to begin, he got caught on campus smoking pot. When school administration said that part of his punishment would be missing the first three games of the season, his dad argued that it wasn’t fair (wonder why the kid is the way he is?). Upon hearing the punishment, the young man’s first response was “I will still play and I will still start.”
One hard day of removing a talented but selective participant is so much better than having to live with him for four months of competition.
If the coach had decided to keep this person, he would have dramatically impacted the culture of the team. The message to other players would have been, “if you have enough talent, normal team rules or expectations do not apply to you.” A sense of entitlement kills the energy, attitude and effort of teammates who are all making good team decisions. Keeping that player also means you must cut another player to make room. That other player is normally one who would die to be on the team, and who has bought into all the team culture.
If you really don’t want to hurt kids, think about the kids who are negatively impacted by the selective participant. Tough day, but by placing the needs of the team first in his decision, he was doing right for everyone.
About the Author: Bruce Brown was a teacher, coach and athletic administrator at the junior high, high school, junior college and collegiate levels for 35 years and is currently director of Proactive Coaching in Camano Island, Washington. He is a former presenter for the NAIA’s Champions of Character program and has spoken at the National Athletic Directors Conference on several occasions. He has conducted numerous clinics throughout the United States and has spoken at several NCAA meetings and workshops.