Making the Cut: When Should it Start?
Since their first Little League game, we’ve loved watching our kids take the diamond every year to play for their local baseball or softball team. Win or lose, we’re always proud of our kids, and they always have fun playing, no matter what. But as our little athletes get older, the competition will begin to thicken. Sooner or later, in order to play ball on the school team, young athletes will have to make the cut.
It’s commonly accepted at the high school level for sports teams to hold a series of tryouts, cutting certain players based on such factors as commitment and skill level. By this time in a young person’s baseball or softball career, competition provides a healthy motivator for most athletes, and when college recruiters abound at playoff and championship games, most are in favor of featuring most dedicated student athletes on the diamond.
We know that making cuts in high school is okay, and for elementary level leagues it is not. But what about the in between? For sports teams at the middle school level, it’s not explicitly clear whether or not it’s appropriate to cut any kids who are eager to play, and many athletic directors at schools across the country are struggling with this gray area while trying to be as fair as possible.
On the one hand, it hardly seems logical to turn any kid away from sports before reaching high school. For weaker players, a season playing for their middle school baseball or softball team might be just the opportunity they need to help strengthen their skills as well as their drive and passion before they try out for their high school team later on.
During middle school, the stakes aren’t too high yet; kids are growing and preparing for the transition into high school, but they are still kids. Anyone at that age who wants to play should be encouraged to do so, especially at a time when our country is lamenting the growing waistlines of our youth.
On the other hand, it is possible for sports programs to grow in size beyond the point of diminishing returns. If too many kids register for a baseball team that will not be making cuts, the available resources for each player and the team as a whole wind up being stretched terribly thin. Extracurriculars at most public schools in the nation are already confined within tight budgets, and there is usually little wiggle room to negotiate for extra uniforms or additional coaching staff.
One coach alone cannot give each of his other players the necessary attention and guidance they each need to improve, and then there is the matter of field time; the larger the team, the less time each player gets on the diamond, and the lesser their chances for improvement.
Being cut from a sports team is an emotional experience, but perhaps it has the potential to convey a valuable life lesson for middle schoolers. It’s a difficult subject to generalize and govern what is always best when every child, every sport, and every school is different and has different needs. What do you think? At what point should youth teams start making cuts?