In 9th grade, I tried out for varsity field hockey. Although it was the first time in my life that I had participated in try-outs, I was already aware that it was very intimidating process, as I had an older sister on the team.
On the first day, we were told there would be "cuts." After the try-outs, I was selected for the junior varsity team. My friend, Hillary, who was a talented athlete, was not so lucky. Suffering from heat exhaustion, she performed poorly. On the second day of the three-day tryout she got sick to her stomach. I remember going with her to the locker room. She was hurt, humiliated and embarrassed by the tryout process. Sadly, Hillary didn't come back for third day of tryouts and was cut, forever out of the loop, never to return to a team to try out again.
Since that day I have always been against cuts.
The cruelest cut of all
The practice of cutting athletes from middle or high school teams, while it has existed for at least fifty years, is arguably the most controversial practice in youth sports. While the arguments proponents advance in favor of cutting are well-known, the practice is outmoded and needs to be re-examined in light of twenty-first century realities.
Damaging a child's self-esteem
Proponents of cutting often argue that cutting is necessary to prepare children for an adult world where there are winners and losers. The belief is that children are better off for having been cut because getting cut "toughens them up" and exposes them to the disappointments all of us experience in adulthood. They also argue, with some justification, that, since parents should be teaching their children not to base their sense of self on their identity as an athlete, a child with a healthy self-image will not unduly suffer from being cut, and will simply find another sport or extracurricular activity in which they might excel.
While it is true that it is important for kids to learn the value of overcoming obstacles with hard work, the fact is, however, that being cut from a middle school or high school sports team is often one of the most upsetting and traumatic events in a teenager's life. One high school sophomore described it like being punched in the stomach. For many, being cut represents a direct assault on their self-esteem. They feel the pain and embarrassment of being rejected, excluded from an activity in which they wanted to participate, and denied the important social connection sports allows athletes to make with their peers.
Nearly nine out of ten mothers surveyed in the recent Motherhood Study and many child psychologists agree that the goal in childhood is to prepare children for adulthood by giving them a chance to develop coping skills, and the self-confidence needed to succeed in the adult world, in a safe and nurturing environment. Cutting children from athletic programs fosters an environment which hurts, rather than fosters, self-esteem.