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IN THIS ISSUE:
“TO CUT OR NOT TO CUT, that is the question.” The Fall is upon us and as we look forward to the start of a brand new school year, young athletes’ thoughts turn to middle and high school dreams of fame and glory: Impressing the coach in preseason, making the varsity, possibly breaking into the starting lineup and maybe even hearing the roar of the crowd as you make that game winning play. Or perhaps that big dream is more focused on being selected for your club team, qualifying for that prestigious tournament, moving up to the next level or possibly being chosen for the regional squad. You can just see it all now. All that hard work, dedication and determination finally pays off….except for one, very small, slightly “minor” obstacle: TRYOUTS - That nerve-wracking, gut-wrenching, anxiety-provoking gauntlet that almost every athlete, across every sport, at eve ry playing level must successfully navigate through before they can see that dream of theirs turn into a reality. The dreaded TRYOUT: When coaches get to measure you against everyone else on the field and where your precious dreams and self-worth rest precariously in their sometimes insensitive hands; And with just about every tryout comes that historically barbaric and sometimes humiliating ritual called CUTTING! Why just the sound of it conjures up fear and violence. CUTTING!!!! You know the drill. Those who are deemed “good enough” by the coach’s judgment make the team and get their name posted up on that magical list on the locker room door. Those who prove “worthy” are “chosen!” They are “in.” However, those unfortunate individuals who didn’t live up to the coach’s expectations, who weren’t considered talented enough, fast enough, tough enough, big enough or in any other way worthy of a spot on the team had their names put on that public list with invisible ink! When they excitedly went to check for their name with all the other players, it was nowhere to be seen. After all there’s nothing like a little bit of public failure and embarrassment to build character and self-confidence.
Cutting squads down to a manageable size is considered to be a necessary evil for most athletic teams. There’s an obvious argument that you have to limit the size of most teams because there just aren’t enough resources, equipment, playing time and coaches available to keep everyone on the squad who tries out. Besides, this is America and isn’t winning supposed to be where it’s at? Naturally we have to keep the team that’s going to give us that best possible chance to get that W. Aren’t the weaker players going to hold us back? Aren’t they going to cut down on the playing time of the better athletes? So what if we have to dash a few dreams and hurt a few feelings along the way. Shoot, aren ’t sports just like life in that way? You have to learn how to be competitive in order to survive and be successful in today’s fast-paced world.
In this issue of the Mental Toughness Newsletter we will examine this pleasant ritual of cutting and the effects that it has on athletes, their parents as well as on the men and women who end up having to make the cuts.
ATHLETE’S LOCKER - “Tryouts and what to do if you’re cut”
PARENTS’ CORNER - “When your child gets cut….”
COACH’S OFFICE - “Cutting with class & courage”
DR. G’S TEACHING TALES – “Rocky Marciano turned his weakness into his power”
“Tryouts and what to do if you’re cut”
OK. So you’ve had this dream for as long as you can remember. You want to make the team and crack into the starting line-up. You certainly think you’re good enough. You’ve been giving it all you’ve got for as long as you can remember. You think that you have some potential and maybe can go somewhere exciting in this sport. You work with a private trainer. You do extra work every week. You run on your own. You know you’re outworking a lot of the other guys who were on the team last year. No question that some of those guys are really lazy. You should make the team this year. You keep telling yourself that. SHOULD…yet so much of it depends on those stupid tryouts. You always seem to get so darn nervous when you go to those things. It just seems like there’s so much pressure on you. You can’t stop thinking about how the coach is watching and if you make any mistakes, then he’ll see them and think you’re not that good and that will hurt your chances of making the team. Why is it that whenever you do things well he always manages to miss it? It’s only when you screw up that he’s there watching….And then there’s all your competition. Some of these guys just aren’t that good. You know that. You should be outplaying them. But why does it seem like they always do great in tryouts and that the coach spends a lot more time with them than you?
There are two interrelated mental mistakes that athletes commonly make in tryouts that cost them dearly. Two mental errors that interfere with them performing to their potential and showing the coaching staff what they really have. Two mental “no no’s” that you need to get a handle on if you’d really like to impress the coach and increase the chances that you’ll earn a spot on the squad. Both are connected to concentration and directly affect how nervous or relaxed you are right before and during tryouts.
Understand this to start with: If you are too nervous or stressed out during tryouts then your talent and ability will do a quick disappearing act, GUARANTEED! You can’t play to your potential if you’re overly nervous or uptight. In fact, NO ONE can! When you’re too nervous your brain stops working, your muscles tighten up and your reflexes and conditioning vanish. As an athlete, tight muscles are your biggest enemy. Keep in mind then that your stress level and therefore how tight your muscles get are directly determined by these two CONCENTRATION mistakes.
If you’re like most athletes who are on the bubble about making the cut or not, then the most pressing question bopping around inside your cranium on the days leading up to tryouts is exactly that: “Will I make the team?” One of the most common concentration mistakes made by athletes going into tryouts is to keep this outcome focus in the forefront of their minds during the entire tryout period. When you make a mistake you wonder how it will affect your chances of being selected. When you do something really well, when you make a great play, when you miss an assignment, when someone stops you, when the coach has to yell at you, when you do well or poorly in a conditioning run, when you show up early or late for practice the natural tendency is to view all of your actions, both good and bad through the lens of “how will this affect my chances of making the team?”
Unfortunately, maintaining this outcome focus during tryouts will set you up to fail big time! First off, it will distract your focus from the task at hand. If you’re constantly worrying about how what you’re currently doing will affect your status on the team, then you’ll be distracting yourself from the immediate drill, scrimmage or exercise that you are presently doing. In addition, continually evaluating all that you do while you’re doing it tends to put your concentration almost completely “in your head” and you end up thinking too much. Remember, as an athlete, thinking is “hazardous” to your performance health. You can’t think and perform well. Doing your best is an automatic, non-thinking thing. Second, and as I’ve mentioned above, having an outcome focus under pressure will almost always make you too nervous and too physical ly tight to do your best. In fact, it’s an outcome focus that is most often responsible for choking.
Now it may be obvious that you want to make the team. It may be obvious that it’s been one of your most important goals for years. However, you must remember the cardinal rule in sports psychology: NEVER, EVER TAKE YOUR GOALS WITH YOU INTO A PRESSURED SITUATION. The sole purpose of your goals is to motivate you to work harder in practice. Goals are a motivational tool for practice only. Your goals do NOT belong on the field or court with you when the chips are on the line. Yes, of course you want to make the team. However, you must discipline yourself so that your focus is on what you’re doing at the moment and not the outcome of the tryouts. If you continually hear from that outcome, goal-oriented part of yourself during tryouts, then your mental job is to quickly return your focus of concentration back to the task at hand each and every time that it happens. So every moment that you’re out on the field in tryouts, try to keep your focus in the NOW, on WHAT you’re doing, NOT on HOW you’re doing it. Continually evaluating yourself during tryouts is a performance disrupting waste of time.
The second concentration mistake most often made by athletes during tryouts, and one directly related to what we’ve just discussed, is to have your focus too caught up with the coach or coaching staff. It’s natural as an athlete to want to know how the coaches are viewing you. It’s natural to care about what they think of you. It’s common to have the burning question, “do they think I’m good enough to make the team?” continually on your mind throughout tryouts. However, having this focus will only intensify your nervousness and further distract you from paying attention to what is actually going on in the tryout. The fact of the matter is that who the coaches ultimately end up choosing for the team is one of those UNCONTROLLABLES while you are actively involved in the tryouts. You do not have DIRECT control over the coaches’ choices because you do not have direct control over them. The coaches have their own biases, opinions, preferences and idiosyncrasies, fair or not. Indirectly you can have an impact on their opinion of you by how well you perform. However, if you focus on the coaches and what they think of you, then you will only succeed in getting yourself uptight, and undermining your self-confidence, therefore making it less likely that you’ll make a good impression on them.
You see that’s the funny thing about all of this. If you really and truly want to impress the coaches and increase your chances of making the team, then your focus of concentration must be away from them, and what they think, and on YOU and what you are doing in the moment. You can learn to control your focus in this way. You can learn to control how quickly you bounce back from a mistake or bone-headed play in tryouts. You can learn to control how you react to the coaches yelling at you or praising one of your competitors. (Incidentally, your focus should also NEVER be on your competition and what they are doing during tryouts.) However, ultimately you do not have direct control over the coaches’ decisions. If you go into tryouts with this in mind, then chances are good that you’ll play both looser and with much more confidence.
Now having said all that, you can do everything humanly possible, you can be “on” throughout all of tryouts, you can perform mistake-free, and you can outrun and out-hustle the competition and still not find your name on that fateful list at the end of tryouts. Tryouts should be fair and impartial and yet sometimes they aren’t. Why the coach chooses and cuts who he does is oftentimes one of those annoying and depressing mysteries of life. Sometimes the coach’s choices can have much more to do with favoritism than picking the team fairly based on ability, dedication and effort. Regardless of whether you think the selection process was fair, what should you do if your name is not on the list? What should you do if you’re cut?
Getting cut is one of those major emotional setbacks for most serious athletes. It’s frustrating, depressing and a tremendous blow to your ego. In a sense, what the coach is saying to you when he/she cuts you is that, in his opinion “you’re simply not good enough to be on the team” and that he believes “all those others chosen are better than you.” (Keep in mind this is NOT fact. It’s merely this coach’s opinion!) The normal reaction to having a coach cut you? To feel devastated, discouraged and depressed. Remember, this is NORMAL!!!! When you have your heart set on a goal like this and, whether fairly or unfairly it’s taken away from you, then it’s pretty common to respond by being bummed out big time. The much more important issue here is not that you may feel like a f ailure or that suddenly your self-confidence is about gutter high. The absolutely critical issue here is how are you going to handle being cut? In other words, where will you go from here? What are you going to do about getting cut?
When I ask these questions I am NOT talking about going to the coach and bitterly complaining, although it’s pretty normal to want to do that. What I am talking about is how can you use this setback to continue to build your dream? How can you use this very disappointing failure to motivate you to work even harder towards your dream? Know that for almost every great athlete, frequent and sometimes repeated failures have helped them ultimately get to where they are now. It’s virtually impossible to reach any worthwhile goal in or out of sports without failing enough times. Why?
When they’re used correctly, your failures hold very valuable lessons for you, lessons that contain the ultimate keys to your success. Failures provide you with valuable information about your weaknesses, about what you did wrong, about what you need to work on for next time. This kind of feedback is absolutely critical to you getting better in your sport and reaching your dreams.
However, it’s very important that you understand the one lesson that failure SHOULD NEVER teach you. Your failures do NOT reflect your potential. YOU ARE NOT YOUR FAILURE! Getting cut does NOT mean that you will always be cut, even if you’ve been cut before. You know the story about Michael Jordan. He was cut from his high school basketball team! Getting cut does NOT mean that you’ll never be good enough. It just means that for this tryout you didn’t make the coach’s list. In other words, getting cut should always be viewed as a temporary, just this time kind of thing, not a permanent, every time one! What I’m saying here is that you do not want to use your failures as a yardstick to measure how worthless or inadequate you may think you are as an athlete or individual. Getting cut may leave you feeling worthless and i nadequate. However, your feelings should be viewed for what they are, they’re not facts, they’re just emotions and they are directly related to this situation and this situation only.
What I’m saying here is that in order for you to be in a position to really grow from your failures, you must learn to see them as both specific and time-limited. Do not allow getting cut to generalize to other parts of your life so that you mistakenly believe that you are a failure at everything. Then you’ll end up having a pity party and the only thing that will come out of that is even more bad feelings.
So if getting cut is supposed to be such a valuable learning experience, then what exactly are you supposed to learn from this heartwarming event? Well that’s entirely up to you and your coach! If the coach who cut you did so by impersonally posting a list on the locker room door, then your first job is to track him/her down and ask him/her directly some specific questions. Any coach who cuts you owes you a few minutes of their time to help you understand why you didn’t make the team. However, the very best way to approach such a meeting with the coach is to ask them to help you figure out all the things that you need to work on so that next year when you try out you will have a better shot. Questions like, “What specifically do you think I need to work on to make me a better candidate for the team?” “What weaknesses do you think I have that I need to work on? 221; “What suggestions would you have on how I can directly work on strengthening those weaknesses?” “What skills and strengths did the players chosen have that you think I lack and need work on?”
What’s very important in this meeting with the coach is that you have the stance that you want the coach’s help, you want his/her feedback. Do not go into the meeting with hurt feelings and an angry, accusatory “it’s not fair” attitude even if it isn’t fair! Do not suggest to the coach that perhaps he/she is blind as a bat, totally incompetent and should have chosen you instead of specific other players who you know for a fact totally suck. While this may very well be true, challenging the coach’s decisions in this way may put him/her on the defensive and then you probably won’t get the helpful feedback that you need.
So what do you do if the coach has nothing helpful to offer in your meeting? If you come out of your conversation with the coach just as baffled and confused as you were when you began, no problem! Then go find someone else who knows the game and who you respect to help you accurately assess your strengths and weaknesses and to provide a qualified opinion as to what you can do to take your game to the next level. Do NOT let getting cut from this team be the final word on your athletic career. Just because this one coach doesn’t think that you’re good enough to be on the team doesn’t mean that you’ll never be good enough in this sport. Use your disappointment and discouragement to fuel your motivation. Redouble your work efforts and keep plugging away at your dream. Do not let one failure completely take the wind out of your sails. Even the best have gotten cut at one t ime or another. Remember, BE LIKE MIKE and get off your butt and get back to work!
Are slumps, fears or blocks preventing you from performing to your potential? Call Dr. G today at (413) 549 – 1085 for one on one phone coaching to help get you unstuck and back on track.
“When your child gets cut….”
There is nothing quite as emotionally excruciating and heartbreaking as watching your own child suffer through the wonderfully sensitive process of getting cut from a team that they had their heart set on making. You’ve watched them practice over the years to get good in their sport. You saw how hard they worked to prepare for these tryouts. You know how desperate they were to make this team. You even shared their dream. You encouraged them to try hard and keep going despite minor setbacks, injuries and frustrations all along the way. You probably even helped them practice out in the backyard for more hours then you can remember now. You know just how important this sport has become to them. Heck, because of that it’s probably gotten just as important to you! You could feel their growing anxiety as these tryouts approached. Forget that! You were just as anxious if not more so than them! And then your heart soared when they came home after that very first day of tryouts with a big smile plastered all over their face and an enthusiastically positive report of how things went. You were hoping and praying that their coach shared this same optimistic assessment.
And things seemed to go just as well the remaining two days of tryouts as well which is why you were totally stunned to see the tear-streaked face of that kid you love coming up the walkway towards the front door on the day that everyone was supposed to find out who made the cuts. His head was down and his shoulders slumped under the weight of what was obviously a crushing disappointment. It was in that moment, even before you knew exactly what had happened that you had that protective and primal urge to throttle the coach for causing your child this pain. Through crocodile tears and half sobs he relates to you the heart breaking experience of rushing to the team bulletin board after school with a group of the guys to check to see whether their names had made the coach’s “list.” He was the only one of his friends who hadn’t made the team! The ONLY one! He was totally d evastated and had all he could do to keep it together around his buddies. And now he’s standing in front of you broken and crying and all you can think about is how you can possibly take away all this pain and make the coach suffer.
What should you do when your child gets cut? What should you do when they come home with a broken heart? If only there was an easy solution to help them immediately feel better like there is with any other bump, scrape or cut. You put on antiseptic ointment and a band aid, wipe the tears away, give them a hug and everyone feels better. Unfortunately this kind of cut isn’t so easily or quickly healed. How you as a parent handle this painful experience with your child can help him/her begin to put it into perspective and grow from it. Here’s some Do’s & Don’t’s as guidelines:
LISTEN – Listen carefully to what your child has to say about his/her experience. Try to understand exactly what happened to them from their perspective. In order to do this you must remain silent inside while they share with you the events that led up to their getting cut. Gather as much accurate information from them as possible.
DON’T ASSUME ANYTHING – Remember, your child is reporting from a very emotional place. When they say that the coach did or said “such & such” to them do not automatically assume that this is what exactly happened. They may not be such an accurate reporter at this time. At some point you may need to directly consult with the coach to understand his/her perspective.
LET YOUR CHILD HAVE HIS/HER FEELINGS – One of the hardest things for a parent to do is to watch your child suffer. The natural, knee jerk reaction in this situation is to race in and try to make your child feel better immediately. Try to contain yourself. They are disappointed for a very good reason. They had their heart set on a goal and they failed to make it. Disappointment, discouragement, sadness, anger and other feelings all come with this package. Don’t rush in to save your child from these emotions. In fact, your child needs to experience these sometimes uncomfortable feelings in order to constructively work through the experience and put it behind them.
BE EMPATHIC – So instead of trying to make your child feel better, just reflect back your understanding of the difficult feelings that they are going through. Let them know that you can see their upset, disappointment, sadness, anger, frustration, etc. Really try to step inside their shoes and feel what they’re feeling, from their perspective. Empathy is the main thing that a child needs from a parent when that boy or girl is really hurting. Empathy is what they need when they’re dealing with strong emotions. Immediately after getting cut, when they are still very raw emotionally they might not be able to use your advice, suggestions or words of wisdom. What they will be able to make very good use of is your empathy. Being empathic oftentimes means that you don’t even need to say very much. You can let a child know non-verbally that you understand how they feel by how you interact with, look at and hold him/her.
DON’T LET YOUR OWN FEELINGS STEAL THE STAGE FROM YOUR SON/DAUGHTER – Keep in mind that everything about your child’s sport is for them, and NOT for you. If they have a disappointment it belongs to them. It’s not yours. They were cut and let down, not you. Do not distract your child from their disappointment with your own feelings and issues. I know this goes without saying but don’t get upset with them because they were cut. Do not blame them. It’s not their fault.
SAVE YOUR CRITIQUE OF THEIR EFFORTS UNTIL AFTER THEY’VE BECOME ADULTS – The very last thing a disappointed athlete needs to hear when they’re in the midst of strong emotions generated by being cut is a parent’s criticism about their lack of training, efforts, practice time, etc. This kind of information, even if accurate will not be at all helpful to the child-athlete. It’s really a timing thing here. What they need from you is your love, support and emotional sensitivity, not your “helpful suggestions” about all the things that they didn’t do right. It goes without saying that at all times you want to try to stay in your role as the parent and not confuse what you say and do with the coaching role.
DON’T ENGAGE IN COACH-BASHING WITH YOUR CHILD – The natural reaction when a child is cut from a team is to respond with hurt, anger and blame for the coach. He was blind as a bat, terribly biased, had a vendetta against my kid, or was just plain dumb as rocks. While some or all of these accusations may actually be true in your child’s case, going there with your child is not helpful and will teach them the wrong lessons about their failure. Remember, most coaches are human, they have their strengths and weaknesses, they all have their “blind spots,” they either volunteer their time or work for peanuts and unfortunately, the vast majority of them are not well trained. If you have a serious concern with how you think your child was dealt with during tryouts, don’t complain to your child about all that was wrong with the coach. Go instead to the coach and when you do, leave your strong emotions at home.
ENCOURAGE YOUR CHILD TO TURN HIS/HER FAILURE INTO A POSITIVE LEARNING EXPERIENCE – No question that failing not only feels badly, but it flat out stinks. You want to help your child understand that these kinds of emotional setbacks can form the foundation for their later successes in life, both in and out of sports. Along these lines, teach them to view getting cut as providing them feedback on what their weaknesses are and on specifically what they need to work on to increase their chances of making the team the next year. What this entails is that you have to encourage your child, if they are old enough, (12 and up) to go ask the coach specifically what he/she thinks the athlete needs to work on to get better. (If you have a younger child then you can either accompany your child-athlete and ask the questions for them or meet with the coach alone .) Asking the coach for this kind of information is the athlete’s right. The very least that a coach can do for the cut athlete is to provide a clear and specific explanation of what weaknesses need to be strengthened in order to make that particular child a better candidate for next time. What is absolutely critical to keep in mind when you or your child approach the coach after having gotten cut is to do so in a non-emotional, non-confrontational manner. The attitude that you or your child must convey is one of needing the coach’s “help.” Now having said that, there will be a number of coaches who will be unable or unwilling to provide this kind of feedback. Furthermore some coaches will get defensive when asked for this information believing that the athlete or their parents are challenging their authority. Most reasonable, mature coaches will be happy to take the time to provide this kind of valuable feedback.
HELP YOUR CHILD UNDERSTAND THAT GETTING CUT DOES NOT MAKE HIM/HER A FAILURE – When kids (and even adults for that matter) fail, it’s always easy to fall into the trap of feeling like a failure. You want to help your child understand that failing is an integral part of the learning process. It is NOT a static thing. It does NOT define who you are as a person. And it’s not like there’s only one tryout ever and that this particular tryout determines a child’s success or failure in their sport or life. Certainly your child my actually feel this way right after they get cut but it’s your job to help them see otherwise. Failing is something that happens to us on the road to success. Failing does not define whether we are adequate or not. Failure is feedback and you can’t learn, grow or get better at anything without enough of this kind of feedback in your l ife.
ENCOURAGE YOUR CHILD TO CONTINUE TO PURSUE HIS/HER DREAMS – Along these same lines, you want to teach your children that failing and disappointments are nothing more than bumps in the road. When they hit one, stumble and fall, their job is to get back up and keep plugging along. Encourage your child to fight through their disappointment, to not give up on their dream, and instead, to work even harder towards that goal. Your timing with this information is important. Your child will not be able to hear this message right away after getting cut. Give them ample enough time to feel sad and discouraged. Listen to them, be empathic and don’t take their feelings away. Perhaps later that night, the next day or even the next week or two you can begin to introduce the idea of and encouragement for continuing to go after that dream.
MODEL APPROPRIATE RESPONSES TO FAILURE – You can directly teach your child the healthy ways to respond to failure by how you interact with them around their experience of getting cut. Kids learn their most powerful lessons not so much from what we say as much as from how we say it and how we then act. Conduct yourself like an adult and provide your child with a powerful model for handling setbacks. When it’s appropriate, time-wise, share with your child some of your heartbreaking setbacks and what you did with them to turn them around. Let your child know that he/she is not alone in their disappointment and that it’s a common experience in life.
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“Cutting with class & courage”
In the best of all possible worlds you wouldn’t ever have to cut anybody. You wouldn’t ever have to be in the position of breaking hearts, stomping on an athlete’s self-esteem or crushing a youngster’s dream. You wouldn’t ever have to go through that uncomfortable ritual of telling kids that they just aren’t good enough to play for you. In the best of all worlds, everyone who tried out and put in the effort would make the varsity. You’d never have to say “no.” There would be enough resources, equipment, practice field hours and assistant coaches to accommodate everyone and anyone who wanted to play. In the best of all worlds no one would ever complain about everyone getting to play and sports would just be about what they’re really supposed to be about: FUN. Unfortunately the best of all possible worlds is a recreational sports fanta sy and not suited to the reality of today’s competitive sports environment.
Whether it’s the right thing or not, coaches and athletic organizations are always trying to field the most talented teams, the ones that will provide the best chance to pick up a “W.” College sports, which are usually serious business, have almost always been in the market of just playing the best and cutting the rest. Whether this is good or bad, middle school and high school sports are competitive to the point where winning is really what they’re all about and only the better athletes make these squads. But now we see far too many club teams across a wide variety of sports comprised of athletes as young as 9 and 10 years old, and sometimes younger where the predominant driving force is to win. Oh sure, the club’s charter may clearly state that the sport is supposed to be just for fun, that learning the game and its’ skills takes precedent over everything else and that all kids will be given a fair and ample opportunity to play. However, in reality, when push comes to shove, the club is really just about fielding the best athletes so as to increase the chances that the kids can win and the adults involved can feel successful
So what does this mean for you if you’re coaching young kids in today’s competitive sports arena? It means that 98% of the time you will have to hold tryouts and then, at their conclusion, you will need to “cut” the excess players, the ones who, in your expert opinion don’t measure up. Rarely will you be as lucky as the Amherst ( Massachusetts) High School Hurricanes, multiple State Champion’s women’s Cross Country team. Art Keene, the long time coach of the Hurricanes has never cut anyone. Coaching cross county you can have the luxury of keeping everyone who tries out. This is how Coach Keene feels. If an athlete wants to put her time and effort into training, then in his opinion, she has earned the right to remain on the squad and compete in most of the r aces, regardless of how fast she may be.
For most sports and teams, however, this situation is totally unrealistic. As sometimes hurtful and barbaric a ritual as cutting can be, it’s a necessity when it comes to the majority of competitive sports. To me, however, the real issue isn’t cutting. “Getting cut” is just an integral part of life. It’s one other kind of failure or setback and life is filled with plenty of them. In fact, to be successful in this game of life your job is to learn how to effectively how to handle failing or being cut. The more critical and important issue here is how the cutting is actually done. In other words, how does the coach conduct the cutting process? Does he/she post a list at the end of tryouts with only the names of all those who’ve made the squad? Does he hold a final team meeting and directly tell those players who failed to make the cut? Does he hold individual sessions with each and every athlete who was cut explaining the situation to them in private? In my humble opinion, most coaches do cutting very badly.
As the coach, adult and the designated “cutter,” the process of cutting may be no big deal to you. It’s just something, maybe a wee bit uncomfortable that you have to do once every season. However, to the young athlete, the designated “cuttee,” the process of being cut by the coach can be absolutely and totally devastating to the point where they leave emotional scars that can last a lifetime. Far too many youth sport and high school coaches are fairly oblivious to the tremendous power that they wield, day to day in a preadolescent and adolescent’s young life. They are unaware that a little comment, well-meaning joke, what they consider to be reasonable criticism or a raised voice or nasty look can completely shake a kid up. Perhaps they just don’t understand how fragile kids these ages typically are. Developmentally the kid is attempting to gradually move away from his family and find his/her own sense of identity. They are looking desperately to discover those areas in their lives where they might excel in. As the child moves into adolescence, his/her identity search takes on an added sense of urgency. Adolescents as a rule are uncertain of themselves. They typically have very low or shaky self-esteem. They are looking for mentors to connect with or other adults that they can begin to model themselves after. They are looking to fit in with their peer group and the fear of not being accepted is frequently intense and foremost in their mind. While an adolescent may come to your tryouts with an outer sense of bravado and cockiness, not too deep inside of them they are fairly insecure and burdened by feelings of inadequacy.
The process of tryouts with the prospective of getting cut puts most kids this age under a significant amount of stress and further feeds their sense of insecurity and aloneness. This is even truer for those athletes who do not have the caliber of athletic skills that their older, more experienced teammates may possess. Most kids who get cut do not know how to handle this potentially significant failure. They do not know how to put this kind of experience into a healthy perspective. They do not know how to separate their sense of self worth as an individual from this massive blow to their ego. As the designated adult and educator in this situation they need your help. You may not have to deal with them until the next year, but because they showed up for this season’s tryouts you have a responsibility to them. To put it bluntly, you owe them!
You owe them courtesy, respect and, most of all, sensitivity. You owe them a minimal amount of help in handling their failure of not making your team. You owe them honest feedback about what they need to do to increase their chances of having a more successful tryout the next year. In other words, you owe them more courage, directness and decency than is usually provided by impersonally posting a list of names with theirs omitted. When I say that you owe them I am making some critical assumptions about you. I am assuming that you are committed to the coaching profession, that you truly have your athletes’ best interests in mind and far in front of your own, that you sincerely care about these kids that you’re working with as individuals well beyond their athletic skills and performances and that you are interested in and committed to encouraging personal potential in the youngster s that you come in contact with.
Despite the fact that I am a terminal optimist, I am not stupid. I know that there are coaches out there who truly don’t give a rat’s ass about these personal qualities and commitments that I’ve just mentioned. These individuals are not in the business of shaping today’s youth in healthy and positive ways. They are, instead in the sport for themselves. They are too selfish and immature to really care about the kids that they come in contact with. As a consequence they are totally insensitive to the impact that they may have on their young athletes. These are the kinds of coaches who are destructive, end up traumatizing many of the kids they work with and who give the coaching profession a bad name.
I am not appealing to these kinds of individuals here. They are too closed minded and personally wounded themselves to make much use of my words. I am, instead appealing to you. Have the courage and decency to cut young athletes the right way. Do NOT just impersonally post a list of the winners and losers of your tryouts. Take the extra time to sit down individually with each and every one of the athletes that you cut and explain to them exactly why you ended up cutting them. By this I do not mean that you have to justify your decision. You don’t! However, you do want to help them understand what they need to work on to get better. Let them know what their specific weaknesses are and encourage them to go out and work on them. Empathize with them about how painful it is to get left off a team, and encourage them to constructively harness their disappointment into motivation and positive action. The fact of the matter is that you never really know just how good an athlete can get when they put their mind into it and their body matures another year or two. Inspire them to keep trying, to never give up. Sometimes the worst athlete at tryouts this year can come back the following year and impress the hell out of you.
Remember, if you have to cut, cut with courage and class. Your kindness, sensitivity and the minimal amount of extra effort and time that you take with the young athletes that you cut today can make all the difference in their athletic career tomorrow.
“Rocky Marciano turned his weakness into his power”
The Edge by Howard Ferguson
The great professional boxer Rocky Marciano didn’t just walk into the ring and suddenly become a champion boxer. In his early days as a fighter, he lacked finesse, poise and also had one glaring weakness – he could barely hold his arms up. They were big arms, short an powerful. The tragedy was that after a couple of rounds in the ring his arms would get heavy and would begin to descend slowly to his sides, and then, of course, he would take a terrific beating from his sparring partners.
With that obvious weakness, few in the know gave Marciano a chance to become a champion. But Marciano was aware of his weakness, and he worked at it to turn it into a strength.
Rocky developed an ingenious method of striving to overcome his weakness. He would submerge himself in the local swimming pool and flail his arms as hard as he could against the water. He would swing them against the buoyancy of the water for hours, forcing the arm muscles to develop against abnormal difficulties.
“In order to develop strength in my arms, I practiced throwing punches under water in the YMCA pool. Art Bergman, a fireman I knew who was a terrific puncher, gave me the biggest, heaviest bag I ever saw. It weighed 180lbs. The normal bag weighs 40 or 50 lbs. I had trouble with my hands before. Art told me to punch the bag with my bare fists, and that’s the way I hardened my hands up.”
When Marciano retired, he was undefeated! He won all 49 of his professional fights, 45 by knockouts. He hadn’t walked into the ring a champion, but when he left the ring, he walked out as one of the greatest in boxing history. Why? Because he wasn’t afraid to acknowledge and work on his weaknesses until they became strengths. This can happen when a person meets a weakness head-on, when he dos something about it.
“I was willing to make sacrifices. Even while traveling, when there were no facilities, I would spend hours in my hotel room working on my strength. I wanted more than anything else to be a fighter. Then I wanted to be a good one, and after that a great champion.”