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12U: Missing the Cut

08/01/2014, 4:00pm MDT
By USA Hockey

They worked hard, got a good night’s sleep and gave it their best effort – but it wasn’t enough. Your child has been cut. Seeing that look of disappointment and sadness on your kid’s face is no fun, but getting cut doesn’t have to be a sad ending. In the long run, it can play an instrumental role in a young athlete’s development. It might even be a springboard to future success.

But the initial sting isn’t easy for anybody, including the coaches.

“I think cutting a player from a team at any level is the most difficult thing a coach has to do,” said Jeff Giesen, a Level 5 coach with USA Hockey and the former women’s hockey head coach at St. Cloud State University. Giesen has seen it from many perspectives, including as an assistant coach with the 2009 United States Women’s U18 World Championship Team that earned a gold medal in Germany.

Giesen offers the following advice on how a coach and parent can help a player deal with not making the team:

The right thing to say: Every situation is different, but whether it’s cutting a player loose to a lower level or removing a player from the lineup, the same method should be used. “Keep it short and to the point,” said Giesen. “Give them constructive and positive feedback as well as the reasons why you have made the decision.”

The wrong thing to say: If the coach makes clear ahead of time what the players will be graded on during the tryouts, then there will be specific and clear feedback as to the reasoning behind the cut. A coach can present an assessment sheet (if available) and share it with the player. “The wrong thing to do is lie or make something up as to why you have cut someone, just to make them feel better,” said Giesen. “This will only catch up to a coach (or parent) later.”

It’s not personal.

“Always make sure that the player knows that the cut isn’t personal,” said Giesen. “The decision was made in the best interest of the team and program at that particular time.”

Parental support is crucial.

Giesen believes that the parents of a player who has been cut have an important responsibility in helping their child get through the disappointment. “Parents should be supportive and understanding,” said Giesen. “Making a certain team does not define your son or daughter, or you as a parent. How you react to it will. Don’t bash the coach or the player. But look at what you can do to move forward.”

Turn the negative into a positive.

“In some cases, being cut from a team may help a player’s self-evaluation,” said Giesen. This is important, because after the initial sting of being cut subsides, the process can be a great teaching tool, and a source of motivation. There are some true positives a player can take away from the negativity of being cut:

  • Missing the cut can give a player the necessary time to improve and grow as a hockey player. It’s important to remember that 12U athletes aren’t near their athletic peak yet. They are still in the Golden Age of Skill Development at 12U, so missing the cut could actually be an advantage, as it gives young players the time and freedom to improve their skills, ideally in an environment extremely conducive to development.
  • By missing the cut and being placed on a lower team, a player’s ice time and responsibility can increase. With a positive attitude and consistent effort, the player may be placed in a leadership role and/or given more opportunities, more shifts, more power-play time, etc., than they would get playing at the higher level. In the end, this will make them a better hockey player, a better teammate and a better leader. Most importantly, it will likely be a more fulfilling, enjoyable experience. Ryan McDonagh, a New York Rangers defenseman and member of the 2014 United States Men’s Olympic Team, experienced exactly this type of scenario after being cut from his team as a youth player. “It turned out to be one of the most fun years that I had,” he said.
  • Missing the cut should be viewed as an opportunity to excel at a different level. Making the most of that opportunity can provide a huge confidence boost to a developing player. Athletes who experience more success feel more confident; confident players succeed more often; more success breeds more confidence. It’s a cycle that can propel players far beyond what they may have been at 12U.
  • A player can make new friends and expand their social circle on a new team.

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