August 25, 2005


High Schools Address the Cruelest Cut (Eli Saslow, 8/22/05, Washington Post)

He arrived 10 minutes before his fate, so Filip Olsson stood outside Severna Park High School and waited for coaches to post the cut list for the boys' soccer team.

Olsson, a sophomore, wanted desperately to make the junior varsity, but he also wanted justification for a long list of sacrifices. His family had rearranged a trip to Sweden so he could participate in a preparatory soccer camp; he'd crawled out of bed at 5:30 a.m. for two weeks of camp and tryouts and forced down Raisin Bran; he'd sweated off five pounds and pulled his hamstring.

Finally, a coach walked by holding a list, and Olsson followed him into the high school. He walked back out two minutes later, his hands shoved deep into his pockets and his eyes locked on the ground.

"It felt," he said later, "like a punch in the stomach."

Thousands of area teenagers suffered similarly last week during high school sports tryouts, an increasingly high-stakes process both coaches and players abhor. As more families invest money into year-round club sports and intensive summer camps in an effort to propel their kids onto top high school teams, the pressure has increased on what remains a subjective tryout process. Because a spot on a varsity or junior varsity team can dramatically impact a teenager's self-confidence and social status, there is little tolerance of mistakes.

In an effort to better explain cuts to players and parents, coaches have started to record player evaluation grades. Few coaches, though, agree on how to decide which players are cut. Fewer still agree on how to cut those players. Only one thing, coaches said, can be universally agreed upon: Tryouts are as imperfect as their punishing end result.

"The day you have to cut kids is the worst day at the school all year," said Andy Muir, the field hockey coach at W.T. Woodson. "Everybody is trying hard to do the right thing -- the kids to make the team, the coaches to pick the right team -- and everyone ends up devastated. It's heartbreaking." [...]

Because of increased complaints from parents, many high school coaches now strive to make cuts more scientific. Until she retired last season, longtime Eleanor Roosevelt girls' soccer coach Kathy Lacey made her players run 1.5 miles in less than 12 minutes to make the team. Mike Bossom, the volleyball coach at Centennial, scores players with a number -- 1 through 5 -- for each drill and then logs the scores on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.

For the first time this season, Severna Park Athletic Director Wayne Mook required his coaches to record running times and player evaluation grades, then hand in that paperwork to him. It is an arduous process that many coaches find tiresome, but Mook instituted it for a reason: After a player was cut from the girls' lacrosse team last spring, the family hired lawyers to meet with the school.

"In this day and age, you have to cover yourself a little bit," Mook said. "When I meet with a parent whose kid has been cut, I need something to show them. I need proof."

As Mr. McKim says:
The Greatest Generation has given birth to the Gratingest Generation. In their quest to obliterate adversity from the lives of their progeny, they may inadvertently destroy competitive sport and eliminate many more opportunities for what usta be called "life lessons."

We'd just point out that being told you aren't qualified to play soccer is akin to a fish being told he isn't qualified to swim. Christy Brown was a competent soccer player for crimminy sake.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 25, 2005 12:46 PM

Yes, playing soccer is as natural and right for us as swimming is to a fish.

You've seen the light OJ.

Champion's League draw was today. Watched it live this morning on te new Setanta USA channel.

La Liga and Serie A kick off this weekend.

It's good to be alive.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at August 26, 2005 1:04 AM

Only the exceptionally talented players "make" the team. The other kids are more or less indistinguishable from each other as athletes, so who gets picked usually boils down to a kid's background or the coach's gut feeling.

The Olsson kid put himself at a disadvantage by showing up without the traditional soccer haircut and the coach might be justified in thinking that a kid who makes a stupid mistake like that might make stupid mistakes on the field too.

Not making the team is devastating, but holding out hope by telling a kid to work on his speed skills or to get a personal trainer seems cruel when it's clear he'd be better served turning his energy to something else.

Interesting question is whether parents should make the adjustments necessary to accommodate their kid's high school schedules? We did it, but I'm not so sure in retrospect that we should have invested so much importance to high school activities.

Posted by: erp at August 26, 2005 9:53 AM