TJ Buchanan | @usltjbuchanan
As we all get ramped up for lacrosse season, there are uncomfortable decisions coaches need to make: cuts.
Who do you keep on the team?
Who goes to JV?
Who gets sent home and doesn’t play for you?
How do you look a student-athlete in the eyes and say, “Sorry, but you’re just not good enough to play here”?
This can be one of the toughest tasks as a coach. We are supposed to be compassionate mentors, working to develop confidence and self-esteem in athletes. Yet at the same time, we have to look out for the greater good of the team.
If you’re losing sleep over the decision of who stays and who goes, you’re not alone. Here are three tips to help ease the tension.
1. Develop objective criteria for making the team.
This will help you make decisions clearly, as well as provide you with talking points when you cut a player. For a freshman, having tangible notes to take away and work on can ease the pain of not being selected to the team, as opposed to feeling slighted and thinking, “Coach just doesn’t want freshmen on the team.”
2. Have one-on-one meetings.
One of the worst ways for a student-athlete to find out he or she is not on the team is by looking at a list posted in the locker room for all their friends to see too. Take the time to meet individually with athletes you keep and those you cut. This will go a long way in building future relationships and shows that you care about them as people and not just as commodities.
3. Don’t cut players unless absolutely necessary.
Here’s where I get preachy. If possible, keep the kids around even if they won’t be game-day contributors. You still need to communicate with them about their respective roles on the team and make sure they don’t have a false sense of hope, but in the long term, keeping players can be of great benefit.
I’ve talked to many high school coaches, and with the exception of elite programs, a common theme often arises: “We’re one injury away from disaster!”
Does this sound like your team?
Although a bigger roster does not necessarily equate to a deeper roster, having athletes available and continuing to teach them can lead to improved depth in future seasons.
Several years ago, a player came out for my team who was new to lacrosse, played another spring sport most of his life and was looking for a change. He never would have made the team on his skills alone, which were well below average for this team. But we decided to keep him around because he was great kid and had a positive attitude. I met with him and told him he would not play much, if at all, and gave him skills to work on improving.
Fast-forward three seasons. He became a starter, our leading scorer, a team captain and went on to play in the NCAA.
Maybe he’s an exception to the rule, but why take the chance if you don’t have to? A player could be in the wrong position during tryouts, or perhaps just a late bloomer. Research has shown that motor skills have a wide range of development.
Somebody took a chance on you as a coach at some point in your career. Is it too hard to believe that kid you want to cut won’t succeed if given time, coaching and practice?
TJ Buchanan is the coaching education content manager at US Lacrosse. Suggest topics for future coaching education posts in the comments section.
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