The concept of giving opportunity to all interested athletes wanting to participate in competitive sports, up through high school, is certainly an initiative worth looking at. I wholeheartedly agree, in principle, with the idea that the positive learning experiences, intrinsic values, and life lessons taught through participation in youth sports behooves us to examine the possibility of “no-cut” policies across the board. However, as the title of this blog implies (and as with most absolutes), the practicality of such a proposal raises many questions which significantly impact its realities. Below is a list of just a few of these realities that will need to be addressed, and tackled with feasible solutions, in order for broad-based, no-cut policies to be safely implemented.
Each and every sport brings with it specifics that impact the viability of keeping every athlete who tries out. Based solely on the type of training, and how this training is accomplished, cross country running will have a much easier time accommodating larger numbers than say a sport like gymnastics where pieces of apparatus are used to train. For the most part, only one athlete can train at a time on any apparatus in gymnastics while a whole team of almost any number can run a cross country training course set up by the coach, and all at the same time. Most sports do not have this extreme type of logistical spread between them (with regard to this issue). However, when you examine each sport individually, you will certainly find differences that either enhance or detract from the possibility of keeping all who want to participate, thereby decreasing the feasibility of having a no-cut policy as an absolute.
Attention / Instruction / Learning
I am certainly one who believes that the instruction and learning phase for athletes, at least from a coaching standpoint, is best handled during training and not on the competitive field. That, to me, is where all the planning and preparation should take place. Then all the athlete has to do is learn to relax and let their body perform what they have trained. I rarely gave new corrective technical instruction to athletes during competitions, other than to remind them of things we had already practiced. It is difficult for athletes, no matter what level or what sport, to actually make on-the-spot technical changes (unless they are techniques they have practiced and have some level of muscle memory to rely on). All that does is increase their chances of making a mistake and increase pressure. In my opinion, and in most cases, it is best to keep learning instruction for practice.
And that brings me to this topic heading of Attention / Instruction / Learning. If all sports adopt a no-cut policy, and large numbers come out for a team, how will the coach (or coaches) be able to give proper and equitable attention and instruction to all athletes who need it? Will practices have to be lengthened for all to get through drills, on the event or field, and/or use the equipment that is available?
It is a fact that correct/proper continuous repeated repetition breeds the muscle memory needed for consistent high-level performance. However, the key words in that sentence are “correct/proper, continuous repeated repetition.” I have seen and experienced what incorrect and improper repetition brings to the athlete: Bad habits. And bad habits can be very hard to break. So even though micromanaging practice for athletes is not a good thing and athletes do need to be given time to make their own corrections, when will the necessary positive reinforcement of correct technique be given if numbers swell and groups become very large? How will athletes get the necessary repetition time to build their muscle memory? Will there be enough space and/or equipment to divide them up into more groups for drills to increase efficiency? Will the coach be able to give individual attention to each group, to each individual?
If these questions cannot be answered with efficiency and effectiveness in mind, and no-cut policies are adopted across the board, then many competitive sports could start to resemble intramurals and open gym-type programs than anything else.
One way around the issue presented, when large numbers come out for a team, is to divide up the athletes into many more teams than what is traditionally used. At my high school, with most teams, we have a varsity team, JV team, sophomore team, and freshman A & B teams. Some sports run only a varsity, JV 1, and JV 2 teams but most follow the first format. You could make many more teams by just adding numbers of teams. For example you could run a Varsity 1 and 2, a JV 1 & 2, several sophomore teams, and as many freshman teams as you need. On paper this looks like an easy solution; however, using a format like this brings with it many more issues that further complicate the idea of running absolute no-cut programs.
Presently, at least in my area of the country, it is difficult to find and hire qualified and willing coaches for many of the sports that are offered. My high school alone has 32 sports for both boys and girls, all of which need anywhere from two to seven or eight coaches (depending on the sport). It has gotten to the point, within the last several years, that the school is having to look outside the school system to find qualified people to coach. This in itself can pose an issue, especially when the outside coach hired does not seem to have as vested of an interest in the athlete as a student athlete. And this happens many more times than you might think.
So if we are having trouble getting qualified individuals to coach the teams we have now, how is it that we are going to find coaches for two, three, or four times as many teams?
Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that we do divide all the athletes up into different teams and are able to find qualified coaches for every one of these teams. How will the schools be able to safely accommodate the numbers of kids participating, especially in indoor sports? With the number of teams and sports we already offer at my high school, our gyms (especially during the winter) are utilized at full capacity from 3:30 (after school) until almost 10:00 p.m. at night. I know of several coaches who also have morning workouts starting at 6:00 a.m. depending on what they are doing and what part of the season they are in. If we increase the numbers of teams, and/or athletes, when will they practice? Do we go to midnight during school nights or start practice sessions at 4:30 a.m. With a student body like we have, around 3,200, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to find practice time. It might work better at smaller schools; however, they too have facility issues, possibly having only one or two gyms.
What about building bigger/newer facilities? That would certainly fill the need, but will the community want to sink those kinds of resources into after-school sports? Does the school have the land to put these new facilities up? And what about equipment? My gymnastics program had approximately 22 to 26 athletes, from top to bottom. We practiced from around 3:30 until 6:30 p.m. (and after our practice was over, the park district took over with their programs). We had one floor exercise mat, two sets of uneven bars, three beams, and a vault. If I tripled my numbers, which could easily happen, I would have needed more space, equipment, and coaches to run the same practices with the same type of efficiency and effectiveness. Where will this all come from? Who will be physically strong enough to spot the lower level kids who normally would not make the team? It is a difficult thing to do, especially with large numbers of kids that need spotting. Most high schools in my area do not have foam pits that gymnasts can safely use to learn skills without spotting. Plus pits are expensive, need adequate space, and could increase liability for the school.
Adequate space can be an important safety issue for all sports, not just gymnastics. Proper drill training in sports like volleyball, basketball, soccer, tennis, badminton, wrestling, etc. require ample room to efficiently, effectively, and safely practice skills, do drills, and perform game simulations. And all this is in addition to match time and/or scrimmages. Can all schools accommodate the needs of the student athletes if we dramatically increase the numbers participating? Mine would have difficulty.
And what about space for the added games for all the new teams? When will they be able to compete? How will all other school teams be able to get in practice time if the gyms are being used for games that need to be added for the new teams created?
Again, more and larger facilities would alleviate the issues under this heading altogether.
In outdoor sports like tennis, football, and soccer, where practice time is governed by the amount of daylight, how will they be able to get all these new teams the practice time they need? It is feasible to add some players to all the sports mentioned above (tennis being the least likely due to court limits) without substantial impact; however, if numbers do increase to the point where more teams become a necessity, a good possibility with no-cut programs, what will they do? Will the school district, and its community, be willing to light all of their fields and/or courts to accommodate student athlete needs and increase available practice time (and space)? Are there parks nearby that they can use? Maybe even lighted parks? Who will pay the bill for transportation to these parks, for the use of these lights?
With reference to this topic heading in almost all others above, money (and where the district is going to get it) is a big issue for absolute no-cut programs to exist. We cannot just say that it is so important that it just has to be done. I do agree with that statement but it is the community that supports the school that will ultimately make this decision, not the coaches or the school. And just re-appropriating funds will have a negative impact somewhere in the school. With a give, there is always a take.
Most high schools, including my own, are currently looking for ways to cut their budget not increase it, and sports is one area that they do look at for making cuts. Our school’s athletic budget has been whittled down dramatically over the last decade or two. Our men’s gymnastics team gets chalk each year, that is all. Anything else they want has to be earned through fund raising, unless it poses an immediate safety hazard. Of course the word immediate is up for interpretation. For example, the coach had been asking for new parallel bars for several years. Each year he was turned down, that is until an athlete while on the bars had one bar come loose from its coupling. The athlete, and the school, was very lucky no one was hurt. The bars needed to be replaced several years earlier, but there just wasn’t any money for it. There are very few coaches at my school that do not complain about not having proper funding to run their programs the way they believe is best. The money just is not there.
Increasing numbers of athletes could easily put school athletic budgets under more severe financial strain. Here are several financial issues that will need to be addressed if the number of teams goes up to accommodate no-cut policies across the board (please excuse some of the repetition).
Where will the money come from for:
the hiring of more qualified coaches
new equipment for each program (more uniforms, balls, etc.)
team transportation to and from away games (more games – more busses)
transportation home from practice (more teams – more busses)
officials for more home games
newer, larger facilities – if necessary
lighting to increase practice time available for outdoor activities – if necessary
more trainers to accommodate the increase of athletes, and of injuries
Yes, it is true that several of the items listed above could be done away with, thus saving money. For example, some schools don’t have bus service for after-school activities to take athletes home once practice ends. Parents are expected to pick them up. Problem is, some kids will not be able to participate without a ride if their parents cannot pick them up. Basically those kids get “cut” without actually being cut. Another example might be not having a trainer. I am sure there are high schools without one, let alone more than one. However, in both of these cases, is that what is best for kids?
In addition, restructuring current programs can make a big difference. An example here might be to run only intramural programs at the freshman and sophomore years where you have no-cut policies and many teams. You could have fewer games during the season for these lower levels to financially accommodate competitions. Then, run a varsity and two JV teams for the last two years that are run similar to what many schools currently have. This is just one quick way that might be feasible with more thought given to the logistical issues that will most certainly exist with many more teams at the lower levels.
These are just a few of the issues surrounding the concept of no-cut policies for all. It is not that I am against such a proposal, in fact (and as I inferred at the beginning of this blog), I do believe that the positives of youth sports participation for all who want to play are well worth examining this issue further. It is just that the present system’s constraints make it unlikely to adopt such a unique perspective in youth sports.
In addition, one must keep in mind that there is the possibility of an athlete never reaching the pinnacle of their sport without the adversity of being cut from a team when they were younger. That experience alone can create a situation of adversity from which an individual becomes deeply inspired to succeed, and so they do. And it is when examining a circumstance like this that you just have to wonder whether that success would have occurred if not for the adversity they faced. In addition, there is a different scenario that may also be true. Being cut from a team could send an athlete on a different path of self-discovery where they find a passion for something else positive in their life, something that they may never have had a chance to experience without this push in another direction. However, I do agree that the above examples are much too rare to be used as the standard for judgment on this issue.
“One key to success will always be learning to bounce back from failure, and/or unfairness of life, and create for yourself the opportunity to succeed no matter what cards you’ve been dealt.”