COMMENTARY || Cutting kids from the team shouldn't end their desire to play

Getting cut is hard on young athletes, but there are things coaches can do to help them stick with sports.


As researchers and educators, we know first-hand the positive impact that participation in sports can have on child development. We are also acutely aware that many children and youth do not have the chance to attain these benefits as they are cut from teams, which is sometimes referred to as de-selection.

Findings from our research confirm that de-selection cuts deep. There are negative emotional, social and physical consequences. Athletes lose friends and are forced to find new social circles. They question their own identities and can feel lost and adrift.

Perhaps quite obviously, their self-esteem is shaken. Time spent being physically active is reduced — not being on the team means no more practices and games.

Cutting also deters athletes from future participation in the same sport, due to lowered perceptions of ability in that sport. As well, when no specific feedback is provided as to why athletes are cut, there is a tendency to assume a low level of skill and a prediction of future failure. The same results happen when athletes are given feedback about things they can’t change like, “You’re too short.”

For coaches, there are four factors that can improve the experience for de-selected athletes:

  • Immediacy: Don’t make them wait! Communicate a date that team-selection decisions will be made, as close to the final tryout as possible. Some athletes reported refreshing their email every few minutes, for days, or waiting by the phone to receive the call.
  • Privacy: Please don’t tell them in front of the whole group; schedule a time for face-to-face meetings if feasible or, at minimum, personal phone calls to inform athletes in a private setting. Avoid posting a list for all to see or reading out names in front of peers.
  • Encouragement: Provide options for continuing to improve in the sport. Help athletes move past the disappointment by connecting them with other playing opportunities (e.g., community organizations, sport camps, recreation leagues, and opportunities to transition to other sports).
  • Expectations: Be clear and up-front about what you are looking for and the process of making the team. Share the team-selection process, timelines, and communication methods with athletes and parents prior to tryouts.

As well, athletes told us that the best way to help them cope with being cut is to provide clear reasons in a face-to-face meeting. Specifically, coaches should:

  • State the outcome first: Do not beat around the bush, start with “I am sorry you did not make the team.” Athletes are focused on whether they made the team or not. Until you tell them, they will not internalize anything that is said.
  • Tell them why: Provide the athlete with information on why they were cut — specific, personal explanations. Avoid generic feedback, such as, “we had a lot of great players in your position.” This feels impersonal to the athlete and does not provide a clear explanation of the decision.
  • Provide actionable feedback: Focus on things athletes can actually improve. Avoid unalterable feedback (e.g., “you are not tall enough”) and offer specific skills/attributes to improve upon (e.g., “work on your ball-handling skills”).
  • Write it up: Eliminate miscommunication or misperceptions of what was said in the one-on-one discussion by providing written feedback. Athletes often forget or misinterpret what was discussed in meetings. Written feedback will help athletes accurately interpret and remember information as well as correctly share what was said with parents.

Our goal as coaches and researchers is to keep as many young people participating in sport as possible. We need to work together at all levels (school, community, club and elite), with all stakeholders (parents, sport organizations, government, researchers, coaches and especially the kids) to ensure that Canada becomes the best place in the world to be a kid and play sport.

Jonathan Mauro is a PhD student in the Faculty of Education.

Douglas Gleddie is a parent, an athlete, a coach and an associate professor in the Faculty of Education.

Lauren Sulz is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education.

This opinion-editorial originally appeared Nov. 5 in the Edmonton Journal.