Irish Grassroots Football

Dropping Players From The Squad

I regularly get emails from parents looking for advice on their kids football. This time of year kids are either settling into their new team or still waiting to find out if they are going to make the squad. For many parents and their children it can be a very anxious time and a coach holding off on communicating his intentions, can make it even more worrying for the child.

In an ideal world, we would never drop anyone but then that wouldn’t be realistic – to how teams are organised for various reasons. Also if we had the option to move players up and down during the season this would also help with player development, however kids football/sport is not is mostly run by people who don’t understand how children develop so therefore they aren’t thinking of development when they set out the rules. If children could play mixed age groups this would also help with making sure everyone is playing at the level to best suit them. Not all kids of the same age are the same size or have the same ability. Allowing for mixed age group would help the smaller and weaker late developers.

There is nothing worse than having to shatter a kids dreams and dent their self-esteem. After all sports should be about having FUN and everyone should be able to play with their friends but unfortunately competitive (organised) youth sports does not work that way and for many kids this is a lesson they learn very early in life and it certainly won’t be the last time they experience the disappointment of being dropped from the team.

Many clubs have an ethos that sport should be fun, that learning the game and developing skills takes precedent over everything else and that all kids will be given a fair opportunity to play. However, in reality and with the best intentions it’s doesn’t always workout that way. Many coaches are about getting the best kids in, so as to boost the chances of winning the game (league), so too feel a sense of achievement, it’s good for their egos and makes them look good.

The Process

Those who are deemed “good enough” by the coach’s judgment make the team and get their name on the panel.

Every child wants to start back in school bragging to his mates about his new team but as we know, so many are still left wondering who they are going to be togging our for the season ahead. Those unfortunate individuals who didn’t or haven’t lived up to the coach’s expectations; who weren’t considered talented enough, quick enough, hard enough, technical enough, big enough or in any other way worthy of a spot on the team don’t have their names on the final squad! Unless your child as all or some of the things mentioned or unless he’s the managers son or daughter then he/she could be in for a disappointing year. Cutting squads down is a necessary evil and it’s the hardest part of the job, I’m yet to meet a coach who likes to cut players. The biggest issue I find it many don’t have the decency to do it correctly, taking the child feelings into consideration.

Personally I feel the July 1st transfer (football open season in Ireland) date does not give coaches enough time to look at players. If teams could try-out new players once their season was completed it may prevent so many holding onto 20+ players a week before or after the season has started. Coaches already volunteer a huge amount of time and coming back into training a two weeks after they have just finished doesn’t give the coaches and players enough time to re-charge. That’s my own feelings on this.

“Getting cut is one of those major emotional setbacks for most serious athletes. It’s frustrating, depressing and a tremendous blow to your ego. In a sense, what the coach is saying to you when he/she cuts you is that, in his opinion “you’re simply not good enough to be on the team” and that he believes “all those others chosen are better than you.” (Keep in mind this is NOT fact. It’s merely this coach’s opinion!) – Dr.Goldberg

When taking on new players, try not to be so quick to make a decision, the best way to evaluate kids is to see them play in competitive games. One thing is for sure, a single game or just training won’t tell you very much about a player. This pre-season it has taken as us many as 8 games to tell if a player can add something to the squad, philosophy or not and even then most players are likely to go through a purple patch for a period of time, that’s were the real coaching comes in, trying to get him back to his best again.

I always want to be fair to the kids that were showing up and also to the ones who weren’t quite there yet.

The most important issue here is how a Coach drops the players:

  • Does he text the players?
  • Does he hold final training session and tell the players after in a group?
  • Does he hold a team meeting and call the players out one by one?
  • Does he tell the player or tell the parent first?

We all know whatever the coach decides to do, most coaches do it very badly. The reason being that it’s not something everyone likes doing and process of being dropped can be devastating for the child to the extent where they carry emotional scars that can last a lifetime and you will be remembered more for this than the few years you spent helping the child to where he or she is now. Still to this day I remember calling players in to a meeting with parents and after all the success we’ve had this moments are the ones that stick in my mind to this day.

Dr.Goldberg talks about the process,

he says, “Adolescents as a rule are uncertain of themselves. They typically have very low or shaky self-esteem. They are looking for mentors to connect with or other adults that they can begin to model themselves after. They are looking to fit in with their peer group and the fear of not being accepted is frequently intense and foremost in their mind. While an adolescent may come to your tryouts with an outer sense of bravado and cockiness, not too deep inside of them they are fairly insecure and burdened by feelings of inadequacy.”

“The process of tryouts with the prospective of getting cut puts most kids this age under a significant amount of stress and further feeds their sense of insecurity and aloneness. This is even truer for those athletes who do not have the caliber of athletic skills that their older, more experienced teammates may possess.”

He goes on to say,

“Most kids who get cut do not know how to handle this potentially significant failure. They do not know how to put this kind of experience into a healthy perspective. They do not know how to separate their sense of self worth as an individual from this massive blow to their ego. As the designated adult and educator in this situation they need your help. You may not have to deal with them until the next year, but because they showed up for this season’s tryouts you have a responsibility to them. To put it bluntly, you owe them!”

The rest of what he says is so good not to post, as coaches we owe it to the kids that show up. We owe to the ones that have just spent a season or two with the team. They have contributed to the success, the journey, the high and the low’s. No matter how you feel about that kid, the coach owe’s him that respect.

Dr. Goldberg says,

” You owe them courtesy, respect and, most of all, sensitivity. You owe them a minimal amount of help in handling their failure of not making your team. You owe them honest feedback about what they need to do to increase their chances of having a more successful tryout the next year. In other words, you owe them more courage, directness and decency than is usually provided by impersonally posting a list of names with theirs omitted. When I say that you owe them I am making some critical assumptions about you. I am assuming that you are committed to the coaching profession, that you truly have your athletes’ best interests in mind and far in front of your own, that you sincerely care about these kids that you’re working with as individuals well beyond their athletic skills and performances and that you are interested in and committed to encouraging personal potential in the youngster s that you come in contact with.”

Dr. Goldberg he’s a “terminal optimist” but not stupid and he’s well aware there are coaches out there who truly don’t give a rat’s ass about these personal qualities and commitments that he has addressed above. Either the lack sensitivity or they lack the experience and knowledge in dealing with letting players go.

Goldbery say, “These individuals are not in the business of shaping today’s youth in healthy and positive ways. They are, instead in the sport for themselves. They are too selfish and immature to really care about the kids that they come in contact with. As a consequence they are totally insensitive to the impact that they may have on their young athletes. These are the kinds of coaches who are destructive, end up traumatising many of the kids they work with and who give the coaching profession a bad name.”

Remember, if you have to cut, do it with courage and class. Your kindness, sensitivity and the minimal amount of extra effort and time that you take with the young athletes that you drop today can make all the difference in their athletic career tomorrow. As I right this I know I have got it wrong in the past but I will do my best never to get it wrong again. My apology now won’t change how I made that kid feel. That feeling will stick with him forever.

Below are some questions I ask myself when evaluating a player, I know that attitude can be as much as 70% of what makes a an excellent player. Respect, hard work, commitment to the team are very important to me as a coach. Having a set of core values which define you, is one way of getting the right players for your team. You won’t alway get it right but having some sort of process will certainly help.

Evaluating a Player (in this case a 13/14 year old) you’re keen to take on:

  • Is the player as technically proficient as current one on the team?
  • Can he use both feet?
  • Has he got the right attitude?
  • Is he respectful?
  • Is he willing to learn?
  • Does he listen to you?
  • Can he play in different positions and is he willing to do so?
  • Has he been measured against players of similar ability (Test him in games)?
  • He is going to add to what you already have?
  • Can he take direction and constructive feedback?
  • Is he committed and are his parents committed?
  • Does he work hard to help out?

It’s best not to judge after just one game and a few training sessions. Unless you can clearly see he or she is not at the same level for now, otherwise give them some time.

Also ask the old guard about new players, get their opinions. Kids are very honest. Sometimes things have been said that you may not have heard. You’d be amazed to hear what some of the current players think.

Releasing A Player: 

  • I will give my honest opinion based on what I have seen.
  • I will make reference to areas a player can work on, if I’m asked.
  • If the player has potential but may not be ready for a certain level, I would suggest he drop down for a year and play under less pressure.
  • Come back next year and try again.
  • Each year is a clean slate.
  • Every month is another month to improve.

“A child failures hold very valuable life lessons, lessons that contain the keys to future success. Failures provide players valuable information about certain weaknesses, about what you did wrong, about what you need to work on. Valuable information to getting better and reaching a higher level in the game”

If you have doubts about player don’t be rash with your decision. Try and organise more games to see the player in action. Even if it means playing other teams within the club or older teams. The more games, the more you see. At least you have given him the best possibility to shine over a series of games and even then you may not make the correct call.

Dealing with the disappointment

The one thing Parents don’t want to hear, is negative information about their child’s ability; so be very cautions how you address the situation and certainly don’t leave the player or parent angry with what you have said.

When dealing with a parent:

  • Try and keep it sort and simple.
  • The longer the player has been with the team the more effort you should make.
  • Listen to what they have to say and don’t interrupt.
  • Be specific and gage the tone of the conversation.
  • If it starts to get heated it’s best to try and finish the conversation on a positive.
  • If that player lacks the qualities you are looking then be specific to those things.

In certain situation it may be that you have to0 many players, in this case communicate to the parents the obvious argument that you have to limit the size of the team because there just aren’t enough resources, equipment, playing time and possibly coaches available to keep everyone on the squad who tries out. 

“Failing is something that happens to us on the road to success. Failing does not define whether we are good enough or not. Failure is great feedback and we can’t learn, grow or get better at anything without enough of this kind of feedback in ours lives” TCD

Questions the player can ask the coach, after being cut: 

  • Last season I was playing every game, whats changed?
  • What specifically do you think I need to work on to make me a better player?
  • What do you think are my weaknesses?
  • What suggestions would you have on how I can directly work on strengthening those weaknesses?
  • What skills and strengths did the players chosen have that you think I lack and need work on?
  • Any other advice you could give me to help me get better?

What should you do when your child gets cut and how to deal with their devastation:

Listen Carefully:

  • Try to be empathetic and understanding,
  • Don’t interrupt them.
  • Try and see it from theirs eyes, they may not be able to use your words and advice at this time.
  • Don’t take their feelings away, allow them to feel sad.

Don’t Assume everything they say is right: 

  • Of course you want to believe everything they say.
  • They’re emotional and sometimes what the coach said, may not be exactly what they are telling you.
  • Contact the coach and to try and understand the situation.
  • Gather as much info as possible.
  • Arrange a meeting.

Don’t criticise your child: 

  • Focus on the positive of their game and be specific.
  • They need your support, understanding and love.
  • Remember your the parent now not the coach.

Turn every situation into a learning experience: 

  • Set backs can form the foundation for future successes in life.
  • This is an opportunity to focus on the suggestions given by the coach.
  • This information is vital for your child to develop,

This does not mean they have failed: 

  • When we fail it’s natural to see ourselves as a failure.
  • Failing is how we learn, it’s part of the process.
  • It doesn’t define us as a person, learning from those mistakes might.
  • To be a success in life our job is to learn how to effectively deal with being cut.

Don’t let them give up: 

  • Failings are nothing more than speed bumps on the road along their journey in life.
  • When they hit one, fall, they simply keep going.
  • Encourage them not to give up and keep working hard on getting better.
  • This is only one persons opinion.
  • These messages may not be what you child needs to hear straight away. It may be later that night, the next day or even later in the week.

Share your own set-backs: 

  • Be calm when you talk to them about their situation.
  • Kids learn sometimes better with how we say things.
  • When the time is right, share some of your heartbreaking setbacks and how you overcame them.
  • Talk to them about your failures.

“Your failures do NOT reflect your potential”


The next time you cut players try and be a little more sensitive. Try to show respect and have the decency to let players know they are being let go for now. It’s takes courage to do it the right way and it’s not easy.

  • If you can take the extra time to sit down individually with each and every one of the players.
  • You don’t need to justify your decision, that is entirely up to you, however it’s better you give some feedback for all concerned.
  • And make them understand what they need to work on to get better.
  • He may have been key for the team last season and all of sudden he’s getting released.
  • For kids who have been with the team for a long time, it’s the time to empathise with them and encourage them to use the disappointment to progress. A motivation to improve and to come back next year and try again.

Kids develop at different rates through the various stages, so don’t be quick to write them off. 6 months is a long time in a child’s development. Always inspire them to keep going and never give up and make sure you invite them back next year. If you can take time out to go and watch them play.

Check out  Rasmus Ankersen ( video of travelling around the world to crack the secrets of the world’s best performance hotbeds. In this video he explains how you can improve your ability to spot undervalued talent.

Reposted and updated August 2015 and January 2016


I always like to hear your opinions and views. If you feel you have something to say, please comment below or email me If, you don’t have anything to add then please forward this on to a friend. As always, thanks for reading.

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