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Coaches Network: How to Deal With 'Roster Reductions'

  • Date:
    Jan 10, 2018

This week’s question for the USA Basketball Coaches Network: 

How do you address players who don't make the cut?


Don Showalter, head coach, Iowa City High School (Iowa)

This is always one of the most difficult things to do on the USA Basketball team as well as my own high school team.

The first thing we try to do is have a one-on-one individual conference with the player and let him know the status. I think it is important to let them know the reason they did not make the squad as well as what they can do maybe to make the squad the next year if that is a possibility.

The case with our USA Basketball team players is to make sure they understand they are still a part of the Junior National Team but they did not fit what we were looking for this year for them to make the final cut.

For most of the players, this is the first time they have been cut from any team and so I think that they need to be assured that they do have skills and talent to play the game.

I think it is always best to keep the conversation short and to the point, as they are certainly disappointed in being cut.

We have had many players over the years that were cut one year but made the team the next year. A great example of this would be Justise Winslow, who is about to become a first-round NBA draft pick.

Sue Phillips, head coach, Archbishop Mitty High School (Calif.)

Whether it’s high school or USA Basketball, team tryouts should be considered and treated as a process. It has a distinct beginning and a climactic ending.  Moreover, it is advised to keep in mind that each participant will experience their own journey filled with emotional peaks and/or valleys. For consideration and a sign of respect, we don’t use the word “cut” but instead refer to the final evaluation as “roster reductions."

Communication is a key component of the tryout process. We communicate expectations, provide feedback, and give a steady diet of encouragement. Specifically at the start of tryouts, we address the group and thank them for having the courage and initiative to try out for the team. We also reassure the players that if they are nervous, it is a good thing. It means they care. We encourage them to embrace their nerves and use it as extra energy to play their hearts out. We also convey to the players that mistakes are part of the process, and not the worst thing that can happen.

In fact, we tell the players that we are interested in their individual reaction to setbacks. We urge them to view mistakes as an opportunity to demonstrate their strength of character and improve on their skill set. Our final message to the players at the onset of tryouts is that a poor attitude is a deal breaker. A positive attitude and stellar effort is the daily expectation for every team member all season long.

At the mid-point of the tryouts, we make an effort to further communicate our expectations. During high school tryouts, we meet with each individual player.  We commend the player for his/her efforts and set of strengths, but also provide them with some areas of growth and needed focus. At USAB tryouts, I made a point to talk to the group as a whole. The purpose was twofold: highlight the importance of teamwork and bring to their attention the multitude of ways in which they can positively impact their team (defending, setting good screens, etc.). 

At the end of the tryouts, we thank the whole group for their time, energy, and coachability. “Roster reductions” are never easy and we are completely transparent in our communication to the group about our angst. We continue to address the group and provide a few gentle reminders. One of which is that not everyone will be offered a uniform today, so please temper your enthusiasm. We also strongly advise the group to avoid boasting or venting on social media sites. Furthermore, the players are reminded that there are generally two types of reactions to disappointment: discouragement or determination. It's up to each player to develop his/her mindset moving forward. Remember, "to which is delayed is not denied.”


Sharman White, head coach, Miller Grove High School (Ga.)

Without a doubt, having to tell a player that he did not make the team is the toughest job for any coach at any level. We as coaches have all used the “Michael Jordan getting cut story” to assist in making players understand the process. The thing I try to impress upon players not making the cut is “what now?”

“What now” is simply a way of telling the player that now that this has happened, how you respond will tell the story. As I mentioned before: When Michael Jordan was cut from his high school team, he took that as motivation -- and the rest is history. Instead of focusing on “what happened” (getting cut), place your focus on “what now” -- moving forward.


Brian Robinson, head coach, Bishop McGuinness High School (N.C.)

We have rules for cuts that are followed each year. First, we make sure to thank the kids for trying out -- and remind them that everyone who makes the team should thank the ones who didn't make it for making tryouts competitive.

Second, we tell everyone that we will read the names of who made the team out loud in front of everyone who attended tryouts, as we owe that respect to them. Since we are dealing with smaller numbers at tryouts, we will feel that reading names instead of posting a list is the best way to do things. That way, if there are questions following the announcement, the kids can ask questions face to face about why they didn't make it. With larger numbers, I think a list can be used, but typically with school ball we're dealing with just a few cuts.

We stress to each player that doesn't make the team that if they ask questions about why they didn't make it, we will be very direct and honest and they may hear some things about their game that they do not want to hear, but the feedback will be honest and constructive. We make sure that all parents know ahead of time that they are not allowed to approach coaches after cuts are made. The parents can send an email asking for a meeting the next day. There is too much emotion taking place during and after cuts; it is not good to meet with parents on that same day. Lastly, we ask each player that made the team to be respectful of the ones that don't make it, so they need to try and control their excitement around others.


Eric Flannery, head coach, St. Edward High School (Ohio)

When you cut a player, it is very difficult no matter what level or what their ability. The players themselves do not realize how hard it is for the coach to tell them they will no longer be a part of the team. I have had several former players who are now coaches; they tell me all the time, they never realized how hard coaches take losing and cutting players.

However, as a coach you need to understand that the news you are about to deliver can be life-changing and very traumatic for the individual. We must approach it with that type of sensitivity and not take the action lightly. Again, it should not matter if the decision was obvious to you as a coach. It is most likely not that obvious to the player.

When delivering the news, I do my best to simply stress the positives. I talk about the work that they put in, the importance of giving it their best effort, the type of character that they displayed, and also offer other opportunities for them as well.

I would talk about helping the team in other capacities, like being a manager or trainer. If they wish to continue to play, I offer up suggestions on what to work on and who they could play with as an alternative.

As positive as I want to be in this situation, I also believe that honesty is always the best policy. State the reasons why the player did not make the team. Do not be afraid to "hurt their feelings" if you are giving honest feedback. Talent is always the main reason why a player gets cut, it is my opinion that you should tell them that, and then give feedback on how they can improve, if they are willing to listen.


Scott Fitch, head coach, Fairport High School (N.Y.)

The worst week of my year is cut week. I hate it. My mentality is everyone who tries out is a part of my team and I treat them that way. After practice I will call names that I want to talk to individually after practice. I will call names of kids I am cutting, as well as some names of kids I am keeping. In the one-on-one discussion, I am very honest with them – they deserve that for the effort they gave. I will always discuss the things they did very well in tryouts and the areas I think they need to improve on. I have discussions with some kids I am keeping to help break up the tough conversations and not isolate the kids I am cutting.

I usually try to end by talking to the last kid I am keeping. This is usually a kid that wants to make it really bad but knows it is going to be close and a tough decision. I end this way because it helps me deal with my own emotions – to see the last kid you talk to smiling and so happy to be on the team -- it is always a great way to leave the gym.


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