Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

Deep Cuts and Painful Scars: 

Athletes’ Experiences of Deselection in Youth Sport

Kacey C. Neely


Youth sport is competitive and selective. At the higher competitive levels of youth sport athletes vie for a spot on the team through a tryout process, at which point they are either selected or deselected for the team. Deselection (or  being “cut”) is the elimination from a competitive sports team based on the decisions of the coach (Taylor & Ogilvie, 1994). As such, deselection is an inevitable aspect of competitive youth sport. In many team tryouts there are more athletes trying out for a team than there are spots available. For those players who are deselected, what is it like to not be chosen? What is like to be player number 21 when the team roster is made up of the top 20? What is it like to be cut from a team?


Although we may not all have been competitive athletes when we were young, we may nonetheless share an experience similar to trying out for a team and being cut. Perhaps we auditioned for the school play, but were never given the chance to ‘break a leg’ on stage. Or maybe we were the last one chosen for the team in gym class. Some youth athletes involved in competitive sport may never experience getting cut. These athletes are always good enough, and possess enough talent and skill to consistently make the team. For athletes that do get cut however, the experience can be devastating. The moment of being cut may remain a vivid memory for years afterwards; one that can be recalled like it was yesterday.


As soon as I answered the phone I knew the reason he was calling as he had rarely called me before. There was an instant drop in my stomach and a feeling of defeat, which hit me instantly. As he spoke about a variety of reasons why he had decided that I should be cut from the hockey team, my mind was drifting somewhere between being very sad and very angry. I was sad and very disappointed at the time and since that’s the only time I’ve been cut in any sport, perhaps that’s why that moment and the memory of that only time being cut remains with me years later. What strikes me most about having been cut 40 years ago is that I can remember it like it was yesterday. (Alex)


Many moments from our youth may fade while other experiences remain vividly embedded in our memories. How is it that such a painful and often negative experience of being cut is remembered so clearly? Perhaps because, like a cut to our flesh, an open wound, it takes time to heal. In the process of healing though, a scab forms, and eventually a scar takes the place of the original cut. Even as time passes, a remnant scar remains. That is to say, a deep cut never completely fades away. While the professional and scholarly literature of sport psychology may label the experience of being cut deselection, there is perhaps a potent truth to the lay term “being cut”, for it seems that being cut leaves a deep and memorable scar. The young athlete is severed from the team she has worked so hard to be a part of.


The experience of being cut may differ for each athlete because how an athlete gets cut and the context in which one gets cut can vary greatly. The type of try-out, getting cut mid-season, how one is actually informed that she did not make the team, are all factors that may influence an athlete’s experience of being cut. Perhaps the coach telephoned with the bad news, or the team list was posted on the locker room door after practice.  Alternatively, maybe the coach announced the team roster after the last try-out, and the deselected athlete learns she is cut when her name is not called at all.  Yet regardless of how an athlete is informed of her deselection, the experience of being cut from a team may be not only uniquely personal but also sharply recognizable to those of us who have been cut from youth sport. We may have felt the deep cut and painful scar from having undergone such a “cutting” experience. In gaining insight into the experience of being cut, we may ask what is it like for competitive youth athletes to be cut from a team?


Initial Shock of a Deep Cut


I am getting ready for practice, my practice uniform on, everything but my cleats laced up. The phone rings and it is my soccer coach; I wonder why he is calling me. I sit on the edge of my bed, staring blankly out the window. He simply tells me not to come to practice because I am no longer on the team. What do you mean I’m not on the team? My heart sinks into the pit of my stomach and it literally feels like my chest is hollow. There is silence. I vaguely hear him continuing to talk but his words come in one ear and out the other. All I can hear over and over again is ‘you’re not on the team anymore’. My world has just fallen apart. (Jaime)


Being cut from a team may be an unexpected event for a young athlete. During tryouts, there may be no apparent threat to being cut. The athlete may expect to make the team just like every season because she has an established spot on the team and thus feels no danger in not making the team again. So when the athlete is called by the coach, the cut may come as a complete surprise. Even more unexpected may be a mid-season cut. For some young athletes, the phone call from their coach may be unexpected, but they may already know what the coach is going to tell them. Other athletes though, may not know that the cut is coming. For Jaime, the call came from left field; she was blindsided.  Irrespective, upon hearing the unexpected news, the young athlete may find herself in a state of shock, stunned at the reality of what is actually transpiring. She may find herself stupefied, temporarily unable to react and rendered numb to her senses; looking but seeing nothing, hearing but not listening. The finality of the coach’s words, ‘you’re not on the team anymore’ fills the room as the young athlete’s world falls apart. The ineffable meaningfulness of her taken-for-granted ‘I’m on the team’ world—the practices, the games, the laced-up cleats, the uniform—is suddenly present but disintegrating. Perhaps before any pain is felt from the cut, there is a moment of sheer shock where a young naïve athlete is rendered senseless in the face of such a loss.


There are many events in life we can anticipate and prepare ourselves for. For example, we may get ready for graduation, plan for our wedding, or practice for a big game. Other events may be unanticipated and out of our control, such as being laid off from work, a break-up, or our partner asking for a divorce. Even if we sense and try to prepare ourselves for the possibility of an upsetting event, the moment it confronts us as real may come as a shock. We can get ready for a soccer practice, but how do we get ready for a cut? How do we prepare for the unexpected? Such events as being laid off or getting divorced may be defining moments in our lives. They change who we are and what we do. These defining moments end one way of us knowing our place in the world.  Upon receiving a diploma, one is no longer a student; after a spouse announces he wants a divorce, one is no longer a wife. It may be similar for young athletes, in that once they are cut from the team, their identity shifts. They are no longer a soccer player, no longer an athlete. These types of defining moments may also alter our world as we know it; as they change our way of being in the world. What has been known for so long is instantly cut away. Suddenly all of the daily routines we are accustomed to are disrupted. For the student who graduates, there is no more class to sit through, no more late nights studying for exams. For the divorced wife, there is no one to eat dinner with, no one to say goodnight to. For the young athlete, there is no more Saturday morning practice to attend, no more games to be played. The cut is experienced in the days and weeks that follow when the practice or game time comes and goes. Rather than practicing or playing, the young athlete now sits and watches from the sidelines. The cut is felt in the ball on the playing field she does not kick, in the uniform she is not wearing. Such moments of the world before the cut reverberate in its wake. But what of the moment when the cut is first made?


The shock of being cut is sharp and immediate. It appears not as a slow and dull ache, but rather as a decisive puncture. Forceful and sharp, the cut may pierce the heart of a young athlete. Within moments of being cut, the athlete’s world may shatter into a million little pieces. Benumbed, the athlete may wonder how and if the pieces can ever be put back together. A young athlete’s world may never be the same again, it may never be whole again. The cut is invisible on the outside, but inside it can feel unbearable to the soul. It is a pain no one can see, and perhaps one that can only be understood by some because others may view sport as “just a game”. But for so many young athletes, who pour their heart and souls into their sport, who dedicate and sacrifice themselves to sport, losing sport may really feel like losing it all.  For these young athletes, sport is more than just a game. If it truly was just a game, getting cut would not hurt so badly.


Anticipating a Cut


Following the 2-week try-out for the National Team, each player has a meeting with the coaching staff where they tell us if we made the team or not. Those players cut will be on a bus to the airport to go home at 830am. I sit on the edge of the bed in my assigned dorm room, packed and ready at 6:30 am. I am trying to do the math in my head; all the cuts will have to be done first and within 45 minutes. Almost at that exact moment, there is a knock on my door. I immediately swear out loud. It isn’t even 6:35 am yet. (Sara)


Apprehension is the anticipation of adversity or misfortune, the suspicion or fear of future trouble (Oxford English Dictionary, n.d.). Young athletes may intuitively sense that they are going to be cut before it happens.  When the phone rings and it is the coach on the phone, or a teammate’s name is called first, a cut may already be felt. The stomach knots or the heart drops, as a young athlete senses the cut coming. For Sara, figuring out that the players cut would be informed early on, she immediately knew what the knock on her door early on in the morning meant. An athlete may be calculating the odds, and trying to anticipate her fate before she is told it. Thus the knock on the door already speaks what the coach has not yet told her..Hearing the coach say the words will only confirm what the athlete already sensed. Does the anticipation of a cut help the athlete prepare for the actual cut? Does it somehow thicken one’s skin so the cut hurts less? Does it protect the athlete from feeling the full sharpness of the cut?



Cut Down to Size


I pick up the phone and it is my coach calling. I know immediately why he is calling. There is no room for me on the team. I look over to my parents but have nothing to say. The look on my face says it all. He keeps apologizing but I distinctly hear him say that I am too small and other girls are growing taller and getting stronger and he does not want to see me get hurt. He is just making excuses for why he cut me. I remain speechless as he continues to justify why he is cutting me. My eyes well up but I try so hard to hide it from the coach. I feel so small, even smaller than what he is describing to me on the phone. The coach goes on to tell me there is a spot for me on the ‘B’ team and gives me the phone number of their coach. I don’t even remember saying goodbye. I feel defeated. More than anything, I feel small. (Tracy)


In some sports, size matters. But more often than not, it’s how big you play, not how big you are that really matters. Whether you are a 6-foot center or a 5-foot striker, when a coach tells you that you are cut from the team, how do you not feel small? In Tracy’s experience of being cut, despite being physically small in stature, she had never felt small on the soccer field. She does not feel small because she is small, she feels small because her sense of self has been cut down, her identity as someone who plays “big” has been cut away.


Several aspects of sport can make an athlete feel big, confident, and significant to a team such as making a good pass or scoring a game-winning goal.  Succeeding in sport and being good at something can make an individual feel like they are growing and expanding into the world. The experience of being cut is very much the opposite. It is a shrinking feeling. To feel small is to feel deflated, condensed, and insignificant. Whatever the excuse may be that a coach gives as to why an athlete is cut, it is never enough. Being cut is interpreted as ‘you are not good enough’. If you were good enough, you would still be on the team. Essentially, being cut is a coach telling a young athlete that she does not measure up. There may also be a sense of defeat when a young athlete is cut from the team. The players that make the team, win; the players that do not, lose.


Simply being part of a team gives way to feeling bigger, and being a recognized part of something whole. When an athlete is cut though, it becomes just them, standing alone and no longer part of the team. The team grants a sense of stature that is immediately stripped away when a young athlete is cut. The “A” team stands prouder and taller than the “B” team. Being cut from the “A” team and demoted to the “B” team similarly evokes a sense of a diminishment. The athlete is no longer a member of the best team, but must settle for second best.


When a young athlete is cut from a team, her identity may be cut away as well. Who an adolescent is as a young athlete is necessarily wrapped up in the sport she aspires to excel at and is further defined by the team she belongs to. Adolescence is a time of identity exploration and identity formation (Erikson, 1968), and for adolescents who are involved in competitive sport, their athletic identity may be central to their developing sense of self.[1] During a period when youth athletes are forming their identities around sport, to be cut from the team may be experienced as a direct blow to their belief in who they are and what they are capable of in the future. The cut may shake the previously steadying ground beneath the aspiring athlete, leaving a fragmented self with uncertain confidence. For this athlete, the world as she knows it may be turned upside down and she is left feeling small and lost in a place she used to know like the back of her hand. Now she needs to find a new way of being in the world. This can be difficult when one feels small, because one’s confidence and sense of self has been deeply rattled.


An Open Cut


They actually cut us right there on the court in front of everybody. After a hard 2-hour try-out, we gather around center court. Sitting down, looking up at the coaches, the coaches tell us they will announce the 12 girls that made the team as well as the two subs. It was simple; if they called your name you made the team. I sit on the court beside one of my good basketball friends. I can’t really talk though, I am too focused on the coaches’ voices, waiting and hoping to hear them say my name. I am so nervous; my heart is pounding and I have butterflies in my stomach. My knees bounce up and down as I anxiously listen for my name. One by one they call girls up. I make a clapping motion, but all I can think is that it is one less spot for me. Each time a name is called and it isn’t mine, my heart drops a little bit more. I’m in agony watching other girls stand up while I sit here waiting to hear my name.  Then they call the name of a girl who plays the same position as me and my heart completely sinks. That’s when I know I’m not going to make it. But then the next name they call, they start off with Ali. This is it; they’re calling my name. But there are 2 of us named Ali. They announce the last name and it isn’t me. That makes sitting here on the court even harder. I felt so close, and I was so excited, ready to spring up and take my place standing with the team. And then all of sudden my name isn’t called and it just sucks. Twelve names are called and mine is not one of them. I sit with my fingers crossed in my lap, thinking ‘say my name, say my name’. Two more names are called, I’m not even one of the subs. A rush of disappointment fills my body. I am sad that I didn’t make it, but mostly I am embarrassed. This is the first time I haven’t succeeded. I don’t want to sit around and congratulate the other players. I don’t want to talk to the coaches. In fact, I don’t want to see or speak to anyone. I just want to get out of the gym immediately. I turn my head to look for my parents; I can’t get out of here fast enough. (Ali)


Sitting at center court, players are the center of attention. Despite the intense focus a young athlete has on the coach as she listens for her name to be called, she is conscious of her actions and reactions. For those players whose names are called, being selected is an exciting and wonderful experience. Teammates and parents recognize their success by applauding each player called to the team. For those players whose names are not called the realization can be difficult and perhaps devastating. In the midst of a public setting, devastation may turn into feelings of shame and embarrassment. In celebrating the success of others during a time of individual failure, a young athlete must still outwardly recognize others’ achievements by applauding. However, this is not an engaging act, rather a young athlete may simply be going through the motions of clapping. To applaud is to show approval or praise by clapping while to clap is to simply strike hands together (Oxford English Dictionary, n.d.). Clapping in this sense then is an empty gesture, one that a young athlete may feel is necessary because of the public nature of the cut. In a similar vein, we clap for colleagues when they win the scholarship we had applied for, just as we clap for our co-worker who got promoted to the new position we were hoping to get. Although we outwardly clap, inwardly we know it is an empty applause, a mandatory clap.


To have your name called is to be chosen. To not have your name called is to be excluded, unwanted, overlooked, and ostracized. Ali’s experience of being cut draws our attention to that of which a young athlete is cut from. She is cut away from the team. What was once a sense of belonging, of being part of a team, has become a distinct separation into ‘us’ and ‘them’. Those athletes cut are no longer part of the whole. A young athlete goes into a try-out as part of a group of hopefuls, perhaps with previous teammates or even friends, but leaves as a defeated individual, no longer a teammate. This feeling may be exacerbated by the mere presence of others. Being cut in front of a crowd exposes a young athlete to the gaze of others and may elicit feelings of shame and embarrassment (Fuchs, 2003). As parents and other players look to center court, we see hopeful athletes vie for a spot on the team. But as names are called, the group gets smaller until only the uncalled cuts sit open and bare on the court. The players that make the team stand tall and proud at center court while the rest of the players sit in their shadows. The piercing gazes from all directions in the gym places the ashamed athlete at the focus of attention. To escape these gazes, a young athlete may experience “a feeling of shrinking such as one could ‘sink through the floor with shame,’ a desperate desire to hide oneself” (Fuchs, 2003, p. 228).


How different this experience of being cut on the court in front of everybody seems compared to picking up a phone in the privacy of one’s own home. But is it really any different? Although the experience of being cut may in fact differ for each athlete in terms of how it happens and the context in which it takes place, a cut is a cut. It slices through and in that moment is an open wound.  Even for the athlete who is cut in private, the cut has public meaning. No matter where or how it happens, sooner or later the cut is exposed. Whether that is the next day at school, when the athlete is not at the next game or when the athlete shows up for the “B” team practice. Before long, everyone knows who was cut from the team. The experiencing of being cut is always an open cut.


Closing the Cut


I walk downstairs to the team dressing room and clean out my locker, still in disbelief. I do that movie look-back into the locker room as I walk out for the last time, like this is the last time I’ll ever be here. I can’t believe it’s actually over. (Morgan)


For a young athlete who has always made the cut, being cut may be encountered in disbelief. “Surely this isn’t happening? Not to me!” Later, in the quiet of the locker room, Morgan gathers her things. On her way out, she turns to say goodbye to an empty dressing room, her empty locker, and to her life for the last two years. How many times had she passed through that door, friends by her side, sweaty teammates chatting about the practice, tomorrow’s game, or upcoming exams?  Here in the doorway, the coach’s words become palpable and real. Here, Morgan feels the sting of the cut.


Time stands still on the precipice of such threshold moments. Pausing to look back one more time before the door closes decisively behind us, what was once a taken-for-granted space now appears as a shiny, motion-picture-like place poignantly pregnant with memory. The locker room was more than just a cavernous lined with lockers, sweaty towels, practice jerseys, and neatly hung game-day uniforms. It was blood and sweat, laughter and tears. It was early morning practices, late night shooting sessions, victorious wins, hard-fought losses. It was the gathering space for the team, a sacrosanct place. In the moment of saying goodbye, a young athlete may suddenly recognize all that is being lost in the cut. The cut is not just from a sport or a team, but also involves a cutting away from what has become familiar and routine. A feeling of non-existence may set in as the young athlete looks back at something she was once a part of and realize she is now on the outside looking in. After the cut, the closing of the locker room door marks the silent closing of a chapter in a young athlete’s life. We may too have experienced that long look back as we closed the door to something significant in our lives. Perhaps it was closing the door to our childhood home, or leaving the classroom we taught in for the past 30 years. When one door closes another may open, but perhaps it is an old door we are not ready to close and a new door we are not ready to walk through.


Masking the Pain


My muscles tense up and my heart rate doubles. I am silent on the walk to the meeting, taking slow deep breaths to calm my nerves. I reach the coaches’ room, and before I walk in I already want to leave. I sit down, cross my legs, and fold my hands in my lap to completely immobilize myself and prevent my nervous energy from manifesting itself in some form of fidget. The head coach smiles insincerely as he speaks, trying to soften the blow. He tells me that they are going to let me go. A knot in the pit of my stomach instantly forms, even though I am expecting the words. I maintain eye contact and composure as he goes over a list of areas of improvement for me as a player. We all stand up, I shake the coaches’ hands, and thank them for the invitation to try-out. Although my heart is hammering, my voice sounds controlled. I act polite, however really I am angry, raging with fury inside. Standing outside the bus and waiting with all the other cuts only amplifies my feelings of failure. The knot in my stomach isn’t going away any time soon. I am so crushed, but to peoples’ faces I pretend like being cut is no big deal. All I want to do is get home and be alone. (Sara)


Hearing one’s cut in the privacy of her own home, a young athlete may not have to face others; she does not have to necessarily face the immediacy of the cut. In isolation from the world, a young athlete can also temporarily avoid the embarrassment or shame of not making the team; of not being good enough. Although she was informed of being cut without being in the presence of other players, Sara was forced to expose her cut almost immediately. Perhaps like fresh air on an open wound, this is what stings the most. She could feel the sting of the cut the moment she stepped outside. Shame often arises in situations of rejection and from the experience of making a fool of oneself (Fuchs, 2003). While waiting for the other cut players to board the bus, Sara’s failure to make the team was recognized by others. To withstand the gaze of others is like struggling against a torrent (Fuchs, 2003, p. 226). It may be a battle with oneself to hide our shame and embarrassment, as we stand unprotected in the face of others. We may avoid the gaze, thus avoid shame by being alone.


When bad things happen and unfortunate events occur, why is that people say ‘stay strong’? What is it to ‘stay strong’? Showing emotion and making our hurt visible to others may be interpreted as us being soft and weak. This connotation may resonate truer for athletes who are often expected to be tough. After losing a big game, rolling an ankle, or being cut from a team, there seems to be a need to keep it together. After being cut, while in the presence of others, an athlete may want to protect herself. She may become stoic as a way to cover the sharp and penetrating pain of being cut. Perhaps by maintaining composure and masking her emotions, a young athlete can temporarily numb the pain of the cut. A band-aid is put on a flesh wound to protect it. It is just a covering though; underneath the band-aid the cut remains. Do we cover our cuts so they cannot be seen? In some way does covering a cut with a band-aid make it hurt less?  We put a band-aid on a child’s scraped knee and say all better. But is it? A band-aid can only be worn for so long. It is a temporary protection that eventually needs to be removed in order for a cut to begin to heal. In the public eye, a young athlete may put a band-aid over her emotions to hide the hurt of being cut from a team, but once away from others, she lets her guard down and the band-aid comes off.


Tears of Pain


I feel like I don’t even exist. I can’t believe that it actually happened, that I am the one cut from the team. It is as if it didn’t really happen and I still have one more shot, that I will be given one more chance to prove myself. I walk straight home and collapse onto the couch. That’s when I start to cry. (Hailey)

My mom comes towards me and as she gives me a hug, I burst into tears. I try to stammer out, “I got cut” but can barely utter those three words. I sit with my mom on the couch, sobbing, and trying to process the fact that I will no longer be part of this team, no longer practicing and playing with my best friends. The tears eventually stop and I sink into the couch. (Tracy)


The experience of being cut from a team may extend well beyond the moment the coach tells an athlete that she is cut. It may not be until the initial shock of the cut fades that the pain of the cut truly sinks in. Within the transition from shock to pain, a young athlete may feel disconnected to the world, and find herself in the midst of different realms – one where she recognizes the harshness of what has just happened and another where she wonders if she is caught in a nightmare. While suspended, a young athlete may become detached from her senses. For example, going through the motion of walking home and not feeling how heavy a bag may actually be. Perhaps by numbing her senses and muting her emotions, it prevents a young athlete from crying in front of others. Alone or in the comfort of someone close like a mother or a best friend, she may at last let her guard down. Tracy found herself crying as soon as she hung up the phone and could be consoled by her mother. Hailey let her first tear fall when she was alone in a private place. Both of these athletes were in a protected and comfortable space where their tears could be let out without judgment. Charles Dickens once said “we need never be ashamed of our tears” but perhaps for a young athlete, tears reveal her vulnerability. In the experience of being cut, tears may carry a young athlete from a state of disbelief to reality, to the realness of what is happening. The welling of eyes and the sting of the first tear confirm the reality of the cut as crying is a reconnection, a coming back into her body.


What is it to cry? What is it to shed tears? For many of us it is an eruption of emotions. For a young athlete crying is a release of her sadness, disappointment, hurt, and pain. Until she cries, her pain is bottled inside of her. Even when she is on the verge of crying, her tears are withheld. It may only be when she feels safe that she bursts into tears, dissolves into her tears, and falls into her mother’s arms or sinks into the sofa. When our flesh is cut, we bleed; when our heart is broken, we cry. Therefore, a young athlete who is cut from a team bleeds tears. It has been said that crying cleanses the soul. Perhaps a young athlete cries as a means to rinse her wound. In order for a cut to heal, it must bleed. In a similar manner, it may be that a young athlete need to cry before she can begin to heal.


A Painful Scar


It really felt like a part of me died. For a long time, it was even hard for me to think about ever wanting to play basketball again. I didn’t shoot hoops for ages.  Actually for weeks after, every time I saw a ball, I got that feeling in my stomach again. I replayed that day over and over again in my head. Seeing the ball just reminded me that I wasn’t on the team anymore, that I wasn’t a basketball player. (Morgan)


As parents and coaches, or athletes who have never experienced being cut from a team, we may wonder how the sight of an orange leather ball could evoke the memory of being cut and remind Morgan that she is no longer a basketball player. It is just a basketball after all. But for an athlete, the basketball is more than a ball, but the value the ball has acquired for her (van den Berg, 1972). The presence of the ball may remind a young athlete of what is no longer present. It may be a painful reminder of what she has lost when she was cut from the team. The basketball is not simply a hard round, bouncy ball to shoot hoops, but brims with memories of practices, games, and championships, of teammates and friends. A scar on our skin may remind of us a terrible injury, and noticing it, we may think back to the moment it happened, where we were, perhaps how it felt or its significance in our lives. Although not a visible scar, getting cut from a team leaves its mark. Seeing an old pair of cleats or hearing a ball bounce may re-open a painful scar, one that for many young athletes may never completely heal.


Concluding Thoughts


What is it like to be cut from a team? If we’ve never been cut from a team, we may never know what the experience is like. But we can begin to understand what it may be like through the lived experience of young athletes who have been cut. The truth in being cut compared to being deselected speaks to the poignant experience a youth athlete may go through when she is cut from a team. There may be other negative experiences in sport that a young athlete goes through, but it may be that nothing hurts more or is more permanent than being cut from a team. The experience of getting cut is not the same as being benched or being redshirted [2]. Although athletes who are benched for a game or sitting out for a season may have similar experiences such as feeling small or trying to hide their pain, it is in no way the same because these athletes are still part of the team; they have not been cut from the team. For the benched player, there is a spot for them on the bench and they may have the opportunity to play in the next game. For the redshirted player, they still practice every day and dress for each game with the team. For the cut player though, there are no more opportunities to practice or play with their team, no bench to sit on during games.


The methods coaches use to communicate deselection to athletes in youth sport have been examined (e.g., phone calls to players and parents, posting a list of players selected, reading selected players’ names out loud, and speaking to players face-to-face; Capstick & Trudel, 2010), although best practices of communication of non-selection have not been identified. This study reflects the other side of the story: what is it like for athletes to be cut from a team? Although we can in no way conclude that there is a best practice or more appropriate way to cut youth athletes, the lived experiences of the athletes who shared their experiences of being cut shed light on what is it like for young athletes to be cut from competitive sport. Upon reflection, it seems that no one way of being cut hurts less than another. Regardless of how an athlete is cut from sport, the cut is deep, there are tears of pain, and a painful scar remains. A cut is a cut. Whether a young athlete is cut over the phone, cut in an individual meeting with their coach, or cut at center court, the essence of these athletes’ experiences are remarkably similar.


The experience of being cut from a team may be felt keenly, viscerally even, and seems to resonate with young athletes at a physical and emotional level. Being cut may be felt to the quick and leave long-lasting scars. A young athlete’s sense of who they are and their place in the world may be challenged. The experience of being cut is understandably a sensitive topic for many young athletes and one that they may not readily share. As parents and coaches, it may be important to consider how intense and significant the experience of being cut can be to a young athlete. As parents we may only see the initial cut and catch a glimpse of the pain our young athletes feel. We may never understand the long-lasting pain or slow-healing scar, as our athletes may not share much of their experience with us.


Through examining the lived experience of what it is like for young athletes to be cut from a team, we may be able to better support our athletes as they cope with being cut and the loss of their sport, their teammates, and ultimately their sense of self. It may be that young athletes who have felt the pain of a deep cut will somehow have to pick up the pieces again, which may be a difficult, albeit important, thing to be able to do. Therefore, parents and coaches must be aware not only of how to support young athletes at the actual time of being cut, but also understand how to help young athletes frame the experience so they can move on in a healthy, productive way.


Once an athlete is cut from a team, there may be little or no communication between the coach and the player. We as coaches interact with athletes who make our team, but rarely talk to the players we cut, thus we have little opportunity to find out what it is like for these athletes to be cut from the team. We may consider that although deselection is a part of youth sport, perhaps a better understanding of what it is like when athletes are cut can help us cut more delicately. We know that being cut is going to hurt young athletes regardless of how we go about it, but maybe gaining a bit of insight into what it is like for competitive athletes to cut from youth sport can help make it hurt just a little bit less.




Brewer, B. W., Van Raalte, J. L., Linder, D. E. (1993). Athletic identity: Hercules’ muscle or Achilles’ heel? International Journal of Sport Psychology, 24, 237-254.


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[1] Athletic identity is defined as “the degree to which an individual identifies with the athletic role” (Brewer, Van Raalte, & Linder, 1993, p. 237).


[2] Redshirt is a term used in sport that refers to a player who practices with the team and dresses for games but does not actually compete during games or league play.