Cut from the team: Some lessons for players and parents

May 18, 2012

Teresa Bloodman’s son was thrilled to play on his freshman basketball team for two months.  But, when the coach held a third round of tryouts so the football players could come out for the team, he cut Bloodman’s son.

Teresa Bloodman was so livid she sued the school, the district and the state.  She claimed cutting her son was arbitrary, that the lack of a formal appeals process was a violation of due process, and that her son has a constitutional right to participate in school sports.

I can appreciate a mother’s pain seeing her son suffer a setback.  And certainly, coaches make plenty of arbitrary decisions, even unfair ones.  But if Bloodman wins this case, the rest of us will lose – especially her son. 

Her lawyer wants the coach to use a quantitative evaluation system – rating each candidate’s skill in dribbling, passing, and shooting, for example – to make the process more objective. 

But only an idiot would pick a team on stats alone.  In 1980, U.S. Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks decided speed was the key to beat the all-powerful Soviet team.  And that’s why he cut Ralph Cox, one of the nation’s leading scorers that year, for players with more speed.  Brooks’s team won the gold medal.  Guess he picked the right guys. 

Any coach will tell you try-outs are the worst day of the season.  When I coached a high school hockey team, “cut-day” ended with a lot of long conversations and plenty of Kleenex, but almost all the players and parents handled it extremely well.  But one mom, I will never forget.

We let her son join our spring team – normally reserved for varsity players – and our summer team, and our fall team.  He asked us to move him from defense, to forward, then back to defense – and we did.  But he didn’t play very well at either position, and did no better in our try-outs.  I cut him.

It wasn’t fun.  I had grown to like him quite a bit, and admired his attitude.  But his mom sent me a long letter, complaining about the unfairness of it all, and added this kicker: “Teenagers have committed suicide for less.”

Wisely, I did not respond.  But I will now.   First, some advice:

  • Don’t automatically assume your child is telling you the whole truth.
  • Let your kid approach the teacher or the coach or the choir director. If they don’t learn now, who’s going to approach their professor, or their boss?
  • If you must write, wait 24 hours.  And don’t write anything you wouldn’t say to their face.  Email gives false courage to cowards. 
  • Even better, don’t write anything at all, or else you’ll deny your child a vital lesson: life is tough, and not always fair.  But you have to keep going. 

In eighth grade, I had had a great spring league, scoring five times more than the other center.  But that fall, he made the travel team, and I didn’t.  I was crushed.  But my parents did something wonderful: Nothing.  The next year, I realized a lifelong dream when I made the high school varsity.

A few years later, when some colleges rejected me, I could handle it.  When I started out as a writer, and received literally hundreds of rejection letters from magazines, I could handle that, too.  And if I couldn’t, you would not be hearing me on the radio right now. 

And I would not have the chance, on Michigan Radio, to thank my parents, for not fighting my battles for me, and giving me the gift of growing up.