Imagine the situation: you’re a returner on your college team. Tryouts are starting soon and the leadership group announces that they want to form the best team possible — in terms of talent, culture, camaraderie, and trust — this year and try to make a name for the program. This is no easy task, especially for a program that regularly gets a wealth of talented, hungry recruits, who year after year are looking to earn their roster spots.
The incoming rookie class is not only very talented and promising, but it looks like there are more than enough of them in number to cover the loss of the class that graduated last year. Now you’re in a sticky situation — if these new players live up to the potential that you are seeing from them early in tryouts, you may find yourself on the chopping block. You start worrying. Cutting a returner might make sense, right? The new players are almost as good, if not better than you. They potentially have four or five years ahead of them on the team, while you are starting your last season. You’ve been a solid player over the years, but you just don’t have the flashiness or the pizazz that these new, younger kids do. As tryouts continue, you see just how good these rookies really are. You don’t make very many mistakes at tryouts, but it just doesn’t look like you’re keeping up with the pace these new recruits are starting to set. You’ve been hungry to make a name for your program every year since you started playing at your school and you start worrying you won’t be part of the team that finally does it.
You are sitting in the living room of the house you share with a bunch of other returning teammates. You receive an email and start to read it. Very quickly you realize that this is not what you had expected. You read the email once, stand up, give a hasty “goodnight” to the roommates still in the living room and start to head to your room. Once you are alone, you open the email again, you read it again, and again, and even a fourth time. It isn’t sinking in. This can’t be real. You knew that the rookie class was good, but thought you had performed well at tryouts. On top of that, you’ve been on the team for three years now. Once that thought crosses your mind, you start to see your world unfold in front of you. Your entire life was just snatched away from you. Your schedule is now completely different. You are going to lose entire friendships because you no longer play on the team. Yes, everyone will still be friendly, but everyone knows that you’re the only returner who got cut and nobody is going to reach out to hang out with you anymore. Coming back into your own home will be extremely awkward because all of your roommates play on the team and you don’t anymore. You lay in bed, wondering about all of things that are going to change this upcoming year, and how one simple email took it all away. You wonder what you could have done differently, and not just at tryouts. You start wondering if you should have started earlier in high school, or if you should have gone to the gym three times per week instead of two. At this point, you would trade anything to be back on the field with your friends just one last time to prove to the leadership that you belong on that roster.
One week goes by and the roster has been announced on the team social media page. Texts, calls, and emails from friends, alumni, and family start to arrive in droves. Nobody seems to agree with the decision. Their words are nice and meaningful but they don’t change the situation. As expected, your interactions with former teammates around campus have been awkward. Everyone knows, and nobody wants to say anything about it. You try to come home at a time when none of your roommates will be in the common areas. You don’t want to talk to anyone. You’ve lost everything that their college experience was built on: the friendships, the parties, the meeting up for meals, the study sessions, not to mention the sport you love. The season carries on and the team you were once a part of is doing really well. You long to be part of that team, you want to feel happy for them, but you just can’t seem to muster that emotion. That emotion is stuck in the past, frozen with the last happy memory you have with the team. Every day you’ve wondered what you could have done differently. You’ve almost screamed in frustration over the leadership not even offering you a practice player spot. Sure, it would have been slightly embarrassing, but you would have kept your friend group and you still would have been part of the team. You could have kept playing the sport you love and you would have kept your life.
College captains – please consider how much the lives of your teammates revolve around the team you both play on. When it comes time to make roster decisions, if a returner looks like they are unlikely to make the final cut, take into consideration what steps you should take in order to keep them involved or as close to the team as possible.
Here are some suggestions:
Practice player – This one is the most ideal because often practices have lower numbers and having that extra body would be nice for the team. As a returning player, they would not hinder the practice because they know the offense/defense and they are likely familiar with all the personnel. They would also be ready to step up in case of a long term injury to a teammate. Unfortunately, injuries are very common in our sport and the likelihood is high that an opportunity will arise for them to step into.
Team Manager – Can film games, organize travel logistics, organize jersey/swag orders, etc. If the player is well versed in film, perhaps they can lead film sessions or other strategic ventures. This can be a good option because they are still part of the team and helping the team succeed, which will help them feel appreciated and important.
“Project Manager” – This one is less specific, but you can use what you know about this player to your advantage. Are they an exercise science major? If so, can they provide workout plans and routines for the team? Perhaps they would like to be named the strength and conditioning coach of the team and lead warm-ups, workouts, and cool-downs for every team event. Are they an engineer? If so, can they make the team a structure that can measure the vertical jump of recruits from years to come? Regardless of this player’s major, perhaps they have a study they are conducting and they need a lot of participants; encourage the entire team to sign up and participate.
A friend – If none of these options are possible, and you’ve racked your brain for all other solutions, then just try to keep them as included as possible in team social events, and encourage your players to reach out to them consistently. They will feel like they’ve lost everything, and while friendship may be a two way street, the friends that they believe they have lost should be the ones to prove them wrong and show that they are still there for them