June 22nd, 2018

Training Matters: Coaches and cuts: considerations for deselecting youth athletes

By None on January 12, 2018.

The 2018 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games are right around the corner which means Canada will be selecting the best athletes our country has to offer. These athletes have been through numerous evaluations throughout their sporting careers, and even at the top level most athletes will tell you that the team selection process does not get any less daunting.

Most of us are not working with national level athletes, however, for many coaches in youth sport we still have the difficult task of deselecting — or cutting — athletes from a team or program. I met with Dr. Kacey Neely from the University of Alberta whose main focus area is on stress and coping research in youth sport. Her PhD was on the deselection of adolescent female athletes in sport.

Dr. Neely noted that, “kids are playing club and competitive sports at younger and younger ages so it’s crucial coaches have a delicate approach to the team selection process.” The overall approach described by Dr. Neely when looking at the deselection process from a coaching perspective includes four main phases. The four phases are the pre-tryout meeting, evaluation and decision making, communicating their decision to athletes, and post-tryout reflections.

In the pre-tryout meeting, the coach must communicate with athletes and parents about the tryout process and what to expect. One suggestion, especially for school sports where parents may not be as physically present, was to send home a letter to parents describing the logistics, selection criteria, and athlete expectations.

The second phase that could be beneficial was with regards to how we as coaches evaluate and make decisions. Some practical examples that Dr. Neely shared were to have outside evaluators present, keep a paper trail by taking notes about each player (i.e., strengths and weaknesses), and to be visible during tryouts.

“How deselection is communicated from the coach to the athletes as well as parents is considered one of the most difficult parts of this process, but it is also one of the most important in order for positive development in young athletes” Dr. Neely stated. The third phase of communicating the cut can be a better experience if coaches can have a one-to-one meeting with players in a space that is private with an easy exit strategy. Players noted that they appreciated when they received specific and actionable feedback and when the coach ended on an encouraging note.

Finally, reflecting on the process is an area that many coaches leave out. Personally, it is a difficult process to go through as even with encouragement and goal setting for those athletes you cut, you still know they are disappointed or hurt. It is, however, important to reflect on the processes and strategies you used to ensure that all athletes are receiving fair assessment that is done to a high standard.

We all know the stories of athletes who were cut from a team or program and never returned to sport. If we can take some of Dr. Neely’s advice and think more about the way in which we as coaches conduct this process, hopefully we can decrease the number of athletes who are negatively impacted by this part of sport.

For more questions about this deselection process, please contact Dr.Neely at neely@ualberta.ca or follow her on twitter at @kaceyneely. Tara Chisholm is the head coach of the Canadian National Women’s Sledge Hockey Team. She can be reached by email at tara@parasports.net.

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