This past Wednesday and next Wednesday, my videos on the SlamDunk Success YouTube channel deal with the concept of cuts. Today, I want to offer some different ideas with respect to the topic.

You have probably heard the phrase in the title of today’s post – “culling the herd.” Culling the herd refers to the idea that when a herd of animals gets too big, it can actually have a negative effect on the herd, making it weaker.

Webster’s dictionary defines it in this way: “to reduce or control the size of (something, such as a herd) by removal (as by hunting or slaughter) of especially weak or sick individuals – The town issued hunting licenses in order to cull the deer population. culling a herd of cattle – alsoto hunt or kill (individuals) for culling – culling diseased cows; culled hundreds of deer”

A few weeks ago, I “culled the herd” of people who receive my emails each week. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I send out an email alerting people to my new podcast, new video, and new blog post.

A few years ago, my “email list” was over 1,500 people. I was ecstatic to know that my ideas were reaching so many people. There was just one problem with my list of over 1,500 people:

They weren’t all reading the emails.

Heck, not only weren’t they reading the emails; they weren’t even opening the emails.

Only about 12%-15% of the people on my list were consistently opening the emails.

So I “culled the herd.” Immediately, my open percentages jumped, and I felt good. I was serving the people who actually wanted to read and listen to what I had to say.

Over the last couple of years, I saw this same trend happening, though. While my list was sitting at about 600 people, the open rates had dropped again.

So two weeks ago, I culled the herd again. Once again, the open rates have jumped.

I am now serving those of you who actually want to learn ways to improve as coaches, teachers, and leaders. While the number of you who are here is smaller, you are a much stronger group. You are more engaged, and hence, you will be able to improve more because of your engagement.

I want to thank you for your continued interest, support, and engagement of what we are trying to do here.

If you know other people like you who are as interested in becoming their best, please tell them to check us out and sign up to join our SlamDunk Success community.

How Does This Concept Apply to Coaching?

Coaches and teachers and their teams and classes can be impacted greatly by the number of kids that they have involved, and it’s not always a good thing.

For most of my years coaching in schools, I knew coaches who were extremely excited about the numbers of kids they had out for their teams.

A few days into their seasons, when I would ask these coaches how things were going, their first response seemed to always be, “Great! We have 75 kids out.” (or whatever the number was)

I get it. I always enjoyed having more kids interested in playing in our program than less kids being interested.

However, the longer I coached, the less concerned with this number I became. I started realizing that with more kids came more problems. Here are just a few of the problems I noticed:

  1.   Supervision becomes harder. It’s easier to watch 25-30 kids in a locker room, gym, field, or whatever arena you are in than it is to watch double, triple, or quadruple that.
  2.   With less supervision, the opportunities for problems and mischief to occur increase. If we can’t see all of them, it’s harder to control all of them.
  3.   The simple law of numbers means that if we have that many more kids out, we will have that many more problems. No matter what you are talking about, when you add numbers of people to a group, you will get more of everything – more talented people/more unskilled people, more good people/more problem people, more enthusiastic people/more lazy people, and so on.
  4.   Because of the issue in number three, we end up spending more time dealing with problems. This takes time away from the actual teaching and coaching we are trying to accomplish.
  5.   The number of reps per kid is diminished. Consider this from a kid’s perspective: If I only have 5-10 teammates in my position group, I will get a lot more quality reps of certain skills and drills than if I have 11-20 of them. With less reps, I develop slower. I also might not get the individual attention I need if I am struggling with how to perform a skill.
  6.   Most of the players who have come out for the team who weren’t out before are players with less skill than the ones who have been with us for a while. Because of that, a lot of the drills and scrimmages break down because those players just can’t keep up. Coaches often have to take extra time to correct and re-teach those players. So not only are there less reps per kid as discussed in number five, but the quality of reps is weaker.
  7.   Depending on the level, playing time for each player will be diminished. While on the varsity level, the best players will still play the most, at the lower levels, where coaches need to get ALL players a good amount of time in contests, the experience will be diminished. There are only so many minutes of game time to go around. If we have doubled the number of kids on the team, we have automatically cut many of the players’ playing time in half. Usually, though, the players at the end of the bench have their playing time cut by A LOT MORE than half.
  8.   No matter what level you coach at, when kids are not getting a good amount of playing time, coaches now have to deal with disgruntled players and parents. Nobody is happy in these situations.

How Can I “Cull the Herd” in My Coaching?

Of course, the simplest way to “cull the herd” when it comes to coaching is to cut kids or cut more kids. When you cut out the ones who are not as skilled, you strengthen the team. Practices can run more smoothly. Improvement can happen at a faster pace. The program develops more quickly and becomes stronger.

** Note: My focus above is on kids at the high school ages/levels. I do not like cuts for younger kids, as there is so much yet to be determined in terms of kids’ abilities and potential at the younger ages. However, the options discussed above and below can still be taken into consideration at the younger ages.

Unfortunately, cutting kids is no fun. It is the worst-feeling thing we do as coaches.

It is also not always what is best for those kids.

We want kids to be involved in sports and activities. We want them to have the opportunity to be a part of teams, to learn how to work hard, and to deal with adversity and overcome obstacles. We want them to receive all of the benefits of being involved in extra-curricular activities.

So how do we strike that balance?

We need to find ways to offer ALL kids those types of opportunities that extra-curricular activities can provide them.

How about creating different levels at your school/league? If you don’t have JV, Sophomore, or Frosh/C Squad types of teams, consider adding them. Putting kids with similar ages and levels of skills together and then setting them up with a schedule of games to play is a great way to deal with this.

If this is not feasible, how about creating an intramural program or a club program? Allow kids of all ability levels to play in a competitive environment that does not carry the same level of intensity as interscholastic activities. Interscholastic coaches of that sport can/should be involved in that program, at the very least, in some small way.

Try to offer them more than just “playing games,” though. Offer some practices, so they can work on their skills to develop, so they can then play in the games with a bit more confidence.

Provide camps for them where you work on all of those basic skills that they need. You could even enlist the varsity players from the interscholastic program to help out.

See if other schools are interested in doing a similar thing and then spend some Saturdays where all of the schools come to play against one another in a Jamboree type of setting. This will allow those kids the chance to experience competition against other schools without the same level of pressure and intensity that the interscholastic teams have.

Get Creative

These are just a few of the things you can try to do to create a better experience for all kids. Get creative and try to figure out others that might work better for you and your situation.

No matter what you decide to do, try to figure out ways to provide kids the opportunity to have a great extra-curricular experience.

We all know the benefits that extra-curriculars can provide kids. When we provide more opportunities for kids to have those types of experiences, we are helping to strengthen the entire experience for all.

By “culling the herd” in this way, we not only make the interscholastic “herd” stronger and a better experience, but we also help the other kids who are not part of that herd have a great experience, too.

Let us know below if you have done any of the above things or if you have done something else to create more opportunities and better experiences for more kids in your programs.