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Guidelines for Cutting Players and Dealing with Parents
Advice for BRYC's ODSL Coaches

BRYC coaches of teams playing in the Old Dominion Soccer League will occasionally decide to cut players from their team.  This article is intended to provide advice to coaches on how to perform this task while keeping the best interests of our young players in mind.  Acknowlegements to Mark Guagliardo, Jack Wade, and Steve Pavlovics, whose previous work formed the basis of this guidance.

Aside from serious injury, the single most traumatic event for a youth soccer player is getting cut from a team. Kids, particularly girls, form strong friendship bonds on sports teams. They are less experienced in the game of life, and hence they become more disoriented and uncertain about the future when these bonds are broken. It is quite a blow to their self-esteem when they learn, in effect, that they are not good enough for their group. The pain is compounded when they have to give up the uniform that has become part of their identity, so that someone better can wear it.

Cutting a player is no picnic for the coach or parents, either. Though it occurs much more often than serious injury, the subject gets little or no attention at coaching clinics.

There are generally three reasons why players are released from a team:

  1. The player cannot perform at a level suitable for the team's ambitions,
  2. The consensus among the team owners (i.e. parents) is that replacing weak with strong players is part of a larger formula for advancing the team's status,
  3. The player exhibits extremely bad behavior or breaks important rules in an egregious manner

Nearly everyone agrees that a player with extremely bad behavior should be dismissed with little consideration or fanfare. 

It is far more difficult to handle the situation where a player is not able to perform at the required level.  The following guidelines are intended to address these types of cases.

  1. When you first present your concerns to the player and parents, also present a plan for her to improve her performance.
    • As the expert, it is your place to decide what this plan might entail.  Examples could include extra clinics or camps, a conditioning program, working out with other teams, and the like.
    • Do your best not to allow this plan to raise unreasonable expectations in the player's mind, (e.g. ‘If you do these clinics you will be able to stay on the team.')
    • The child must understand that it is not the execution of the plan that will save his/her roster spot. Rather, it is dramatic performance improvement, which may or may not result from following the plan.
  2. Keep the player and parents informed of progress throughout the year.
    • Is he/she doing better? Worse? No change? New problems?
    • While the frequency of these progress discussions can vary, it is recommended that at least twice during the season is reasonable.
  3. When making decisions about player selections ensure that you do not drag out the final decision and be honest!
    • Ensure that the player and family are informed right away.
    • Don't give false hope. If it still looks grim, tell them you haven't seen what you are looking for.  You have done right by the child and have been honest. You won't be able to control what the parents say about you behind your back, so don't loose any sleep over it.
  4. Your sincere concern and affection is required at all times - from the day of first try-out to the moment you deliver the bad news.
    • You should never show disgust or anger toward a player because he/she does not have the talent you are looking for.
    • Frustration or disappointment is okay if accompanied by sincere concern and affection for the kid.
    • If you feel more strongly about how the kid has damaged your chances of winning than about how the kid feels then you need an attitude adjustment!!!
  5. Make it a policy to give a formal evaluation to all players/families immediately after each season ends.
    • This may be the best time to cut a player who will certainly not survive tryouts.
    • Telling the player and parents sooner than the end of the season may have a negative effect on team chemistry and performance for those last matches. Yet waiting longer will reduce the time she has to try out for other teams for the upcoming season.
    • What about those players to which you have given a season-long warning, and on-going evaluations, but for whom you are still not absolutely sure. Again, honesty is the best policy. You may advise them not to come to tryouts, or tell them that surviving tryouts will honestly depend on how good the new talent is. Do not tell them that they will probably survive tryouts, even if you believe it. Most kids will take this as a positive signal and begin to adjust to the fact that the improvement plan worked. They will be crushed if you then replace them with an expected superstar that showed up for tryouts.
    • In fact, it is probably a bad idea to tell any of your players that they will probably survive tryouts. Kids talk and compare notes. It won't take them long to come to some inaccurate conclusions about who the coach is going to keep and who he's going to dump.
  6. Tell the parents the bad news first.
    • Tell them you want to tell the child privately, and you want to do it now. But give them the option of telling the player.
    • Sometimes the parent will tell you that the child has already decided not to continue with the team.  In that case, they made the decision and you just need to thank them for all their efforts while on the team.
  7. The message needs to be honest and caring.
    • Every coach has a different personality and style of communication, and every player has a different level of maturity.
    • Be honest and caring, and don't try to shift the focus, e.g. don't say, "It was a close decision. Maybe you can go to some mid-summer camps to improve your skills and try out again at our late-summer tryouts."
  8. Develop relationships with other teams that play at a lower level or have a different philosophy.
    • Inform those coaches well in advance that you might have a player for them, and see if that coach can watch your player at a scrimmage or match.
    • If the other coach is receptive to the idea (no guarantees implied) you can present this alternative to the player when you deliver the bad news.
    • Example: 'We think you will enjoy this other team more, and you will probably get more playing time. You will feel better about contributing more. I was proud to recommend you to their coach, and he wants to see you at their tryouts.'
  9. Have established criteria for your selections. 
    • Parents and players need to be aware of what is required.
    • Unclear expectations will only cause you greater challenges when making your decisions and communicating them to players and parents.

Cutting a player is no picnic for the coach or parents.  These straightforward guidelines should help you both be more prepared.


Dealing with the Parents

 

No matter how good of a coach you are, not all parents will agree with you 100% of the time.  There are typically 4 main areas that parents have disagreements with:

  • Playing time
  • Skills being taught
  • Style of coaching
  • Competitive level of play

Playing time is the #1 issue with parents.  Every parent wants his or her child to play as much as possible.  At younger ages, this is less of an issue for coaches because they should be playing the children a lot (that’s the only way that they learn!).  But in a competitive environment, some players will play more then others.  This can lead to frustration on the part of the child, and in turn, the parents.

The skills being taught can also be a source of conflict.  You should always stress the fundamentals, but sometimes parents believe this approach is too basic.  They forget that players need to learn to walk before they can run.

A coach’s style of coaching is also a potential source of conflict.  Some coaches are laid back, others very intense.  Some have strict rules, others loose with the rules.  Some say nothing on the sidelines, others yell.

Finally, the competitive level of play can cause conflict.  Some coaches and parents want to win every game.  That’s whether they play only a few players or everyone on the team.  Some parents feel all players should play, others feel the best players get the most time.

You might think, “What can I do to cut down or eliminate these possible conflicts?”  The good news is that by following these simple suggestions you can do something about it. 

  1. You must educate the parents as well as the players
  • At the start of the season, meet with all the parents.  Many parents don’t understand the sport.
  • Explain to them the level of play, how much playing time they can expect their child to get (e.g. Equal time, no guarantee…), the rules of the game, and the level of commitment expected.
  • Tell parents not to come to you at the end of a game with issues.  Your first priority is the players and giving them your full attention.
  • By telling parents up front what to expect it sill help to limit the number of complaints you get through the year.  They will still come, but now they can’t say they weren’t informed.
     
  1. Avoid confrontations after a game - always try to stay calm
  • If a parent comes running up to you after a game with an issue, your first reaction is often to get defensive.  Try to stay calm, if you give a loud response or one that the parents doesn’t like the situation can escalate quickly. 
  • The best solution is to acknowledge the parent and explain to them that you need to get back to the team.  This does 2 things:
    • first it stops a scene from developing;
    • second, it gives the parent and coach time to collect their thoughts
  • Find the parent later (always try to bring an assistant coach with you).  Make sure you are away from others.  If the question is straightforward answer it, but if it is emotional then tell the parent that you will gladly sit down with then at a different time
  • When emotions take over a conversation then nothing gets accomplished – this is what usually happens when a coach gets confronted after that game
  1. “Cooling off” period
  • In the heat of the moment, hurtful things can be said.  When faced with an emotional issue, understand the issue and then try to let a day or two pass before you get together to discuss and emotional issue in depth
  • Cooler heads will prevail.  It is also more likely that a parent will listen to what you have to say.  They may not agree with it, but at least they are listening and trying to understand your point of view
  1. Don’t be a Loner
  • When you meet with a parent on an issue have another person with you. Meet in person, not by telephone.  And meet in a neutral location
  • There are 2 main reasons for having someone else with you: 
    • First, you want someone else to hear what you are telling the parents.  This will help ensure you aren’t misquoted or misunderstood.  His or her purpose is to just listen and to help to keep everyone on track. 
    • Second, you want someone there in case there is trouble.  It’s better to be cautious.  Odds are nothing will happen but don’t take any chances.
  1. Be a listener first
  • Let parents talk as long as they need.  If a parent believes you are taking their concerns seriously, this is half the battle.
  • Don’t interrupt a parent while they are talking.  Even if you totally disagree, just listen!
  • The only time to interrupt is if the parent stops being civil and takes personal attacks at you or uses profanity.  In these cases, remind the parent that both or you are there to help the child and uncivil behaviour is not going to help
     
  1. Don’t compromise your principles
  • If you are doing what you believe to be in the best interest of the child then don’t change everything for one parent.
  • Allowing one player to get away with something or allowing a player to follow their own rules will cause dissention between the other parents and players
  1. Always have a next step
  • Your primary goal when dealing with a parent on an issue is to walk away with both sides being satisfied.    If you don’t reach agreement during the meeting then you need to give the parent options.
  • This might mean bringing the issue to the BRYC ODSL Club representative.
  • Sadly, one option is for the player to quit the team.  This should always be the last resort

This document is not to discourage anyone from coaching, but to prepare you for when these situations arise.  Just remember to always openly communicate with players and parents, set clear expectations and have fun!