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Great Article For Parents & Players

September 14, 2010
Pacific High School



Making the most of getting cut

At 14, it might be the worst feeling in the world. And these might be the cruelest words: Cut from the team.

You want to know how bad that feels? You want to know the ache when those words knife into the heart?

You want to know? Ask Michael Jordan. Yeah, that Michael Jordan, the hoops god, the hall of famer, the guy with all the championship rings. Ask that Michael Jordan. Or don't ask him. Instead, just wait. He'll tell you.

Michael Jordan was cut from his high school team. He was 15 and a sophomore, and the varsity coach cut him. Jordan played with the junior varsity, but being cut was what he remembered. If he's told that story once, he's told it a hundred times. At his Hall of Fame induction, 22 years after his cut-from-the-team moment, Jordan flew the guy who was picked ahead of him to the HOF program so he could do the told-you-so bit one more time.

Jordan grew up in North Carolina, along Tobacco Road where one college basketball power rubs up against the next and the next and the next. Everybody grows up playing hoops there.

Here, things are different. Here, everybody grows up playing soccer. There's youth league soccer, CYC soccer, YMCA soccer, club soccer, indoor soccer and, if you're lucky, high school soccer.

 A different sort of second chanceZach Bandera says he's no Michael Jordan.

But he knows the heartache that swept over Jordan when he was cut. Bandera, a junior, tried out for the St. Mary's soccer team last month. When Coach Jeff Robben posted the list of players who had made the Dragons soccer team, the 16-year-old Bandera scanned the list, and he was crushed not to see his name. Banging through his head were the cruelest words: Cut from the team.

"I thought I had a good chance, at least a decent chance," he says.

Robben liked Bandera. He paid attention, played hard, hustled. But, two years removed from playing outdoor soccer, Bandera was not quite ready to play high school ball when he came to the tryouts.

Robben's assessment was honest: "I told him, ‘You're a step slow," he says.

But Robben wanted Bandera to know the door would be open a year from now. Sometimes, players don't come back after being cut. Robben took an extra step to encourage Bandera to come back - he offered him a chance to stay with the team as a manager and, when needed, as a practice player.

The offer was unexpected. Beyond unexpected.

"I wasn't going to do it at first," says Bandera, who grew up playing CYC ball at St. Joan of Arc and then at St. Ambrose. "I was excited, but I was thinking about being cut."

It took a couple days - Robben was patient - for Bandera to get back to the St. Mary's coach and tell him he would be glad to stick around as a manager and as an occasional practice participant.

In the last couple weeks, Bandera has tried to absorb as much of Robben's instruction as possible. A couple times a week, he has been asked to take part in practice activities.

"I did a shooting drill today, and then there was a scrimmage that I got to play in the other day," he says. "It's almost like I'm on the team. Well, I guess I am on the team, but I'm not a player."

But that could change. Next year, he wants to be the kind of player Robben can't cut.

"I'm very excited for next year," he says.

 Toughest day of the seasonPractice started for area soccer teams on Aug. 9. From the first whistle, Jason Sellers worried about what was coming at the end of the week. He knew someone's heart would be broken. It was guaranteed, and he hated it.

That wasn't new. Sellers has coached soccer for eight years at Hazelwood West and for each of those eight years he's hated the end of the first week of practices.

"That's the worst part, the cut day," says Sellers. "That's the hardest part of this. Nobody signs up to be a teacher to dash somebody's dreams."

Amen says Windsor Coach George Van Dyke. "It's actually the hardest thing I have to do."

The numbers don't matter on "cut day." Let three kids go or 30, it doesn't matter.

"That's hard to do, believe me," says Robben of St. Mary's. "I challenge any coach to say that it's not."

At CBC, Terry Michler makes judgments on more soccer players than just about any coach in the St. Louis area. Every year he looks over a group that numbers approximately 130 players. About 100 will be assigned to one of CBC's five - count ‘em five! - teams, but that leaves 20, 30 or more to be disappointed.

"You have to get used to it, that's for sure," Michler says.

 After five days ... what then?There are tryout decisions that are no-brainers. You don't need Michler's coaching resume or Robben's pro soccer background to spot great soccer players and great athletes.

Those are the easy decisions.

"It's pretty evident in most cases," Robben says.

The toughest judgment may come when assessing freshmen. The talent pool will have some with eye-catching speed or athletic ability. It may have some who have polished soccer skills, but the majority will be ... kids. They will be all arms and legs and eagerness.

Unless you know what you're looking for, it's not an easy group to make decisions about.

"On average the 14-year-old who shows up is what you expect - he's a 14-year-old kid," says Michler.

Sorting through the crowd of 14-year-old players is difficult. And the process is made harder as programs feel the heat to get finished with tryouts and start setting a lineup for the first game.

Want to take a chance on missing a kid who can play? Rush through tryouts.

"At the end of three days, you might miss somebody," Michler says.

The answer to the challenge of sorting through the a crowded field of young players? Don't take three days. Look over the field a second time and, maybe, a third time.

At Hazelwood West, Sellers says a lot of his attention in the early practices is devoted to grading the program's newcomers.

"You try to take as much care as possible. You want to give every kid a fair shake," he says.

At West, he says, a fair shake typically runs through the first week of workouts. "We try to give everybody a good five days," he says.

After five days, what then?

For some, there is more soccer. They make the cut and play on.

For others, well, there is that horrible cut-from-the-team moment and then ... what?

Nothing?

More often than you might expect, there is a second act to these things. A year changes a lot of things, and Robben notes that preparation opens a lot of doors.

It worked for Michael Jordan.

Why not for Zach Bandera?

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Written by: Dennis Barnidge | STLhighschoolSPORTS.com on September 13, 2010.

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