Breaking bad news to the rugby team on selection

No matter what level you coach at, players will react in a wide variety of ways to being dropped.

Each individual has their own motives for wanting to play. Professionals rely on selection for their livelihood.

Amateur players have other motives to remain in the team, which equally apply to the professionals, like pride or being with their friends. Some players simply want a game, whatever the standard.

Whatever the reasons, no player likes being dropped. The better you know your players, the easier it is to know when and where to break the news to each of them. You then need to be able to use the right language, in the right manner.

Six step plan

  1. Prepare the player: “I have some bad news and it’s going to be very disappointing for you.”
  2. Tell them they are “not included” in the team for the game. Don’t use terms like “dropped”.
  3. Explain why. This is not a list of excuses or apologies, but a straightforward explanation of the reasons for your choice.
  4. Demonstrate understanding. The impact of the bad news is going to be disappointing. The player needs to know you care about their feelings.
  5. Give the player some targets, but don’t make promises. Some players will want to know what they can do to get back in the team. However, make sure you don’t promise them selection in the next game.
  6. Gain commitment for the future: “You are still an important part of the squad and it is not just about 15 players on the pitch, but the whole squad over the season. Can I count on your commitment in the coming weeks?”



There are no good times to give bad news. However, there are “less bad” times.

Coaches approach the situation in a variety of ways – a team announcement before training, after training, posting the team on the board.

Some of the less popular ways are asking the captain to tell the players or giving out two colours of bibs in training and then saying that one colour is the selected team. Alternative methods include:

  • Ask the players at the start of the season to say when and how they think the team should be announced.
  • Say that you will give every player an explanation before or just after you announce the team. However, you reserve the right to not explain before, if time does not allow it (e.g. you may be waiting on an injury or availability report).

The “Telling”

There are some crucial factors in the manner in which you convey the news to the player.

Voice – the tone of your voice needs to be calm, and non-threatening. Be clear, positive and dynamic in how you explain the reasons for non-selection.

Eye-contact – maintain eye-contact throughout the conversation. Sometimes it is worth looking at the player’s eyebrows, if you find it hard to meet their direct eye line.

Deliver the news at the same height – both sitting or both standing.

Listen – expect some feedback. Don’t reject what they say, but empathise.

Bad news don’ts

  • Don’t hurry the discussion with the player.
  • Don’t give a long list of reasons why a player is not selected.
  • Don’t promise anything you cannot immediately deliver.

This article is from International Rugby Coaching. Issued monthly, this journal is ideal for professional, semi-professional, senior, aspiring and experienced rugby coaches.

Share this
Follow us