In my experience few things in coaching are more difficult then tryouts. Perhaps dealing with some parents, but I’ll leave that for another blog. I love getting back in the gym with the players. I love motivating players to give their best and to want to be a part of our team. I love working with a team of coaches to help me run a try-out and to help make decisions. But the decisions can be agonizing.
Having to cut a player that has previously played for you can be an extremely difficult process. Encouraging players to continue to work on their game so they may have a chance of making the team the following year can be a tricky balance. I hate having to disappoint players, but sports are competitive by nature.
I bumped into a fellow coach, Ted, the other day, and we began to talk about the process. I had coached Ted’s son for a few years, a terrific young man, who is going to be a dynamite referee. Ted confessed to me he was losing sleep over the process. I confessed to him that I would go through the same thing each year. It impresses me that it would have that effect on his daily life. You could simply say “it’s just youth rep ball”.. but I know he really cares about the process if it is effecting him in that way. I know he understands the importance of doing it right.
Here are some things I have learned, that have helped me with that process.
1. Know what you are looking for.
o Even if it’s your first year as a head coach, have an outline of what type of team you want to be. Have some philosophies for defense and offense and design your Try-Outs accordingly.
o Be prepared to adjust your goals depending on who comes out.
o Make sure your drills reflect what you are looking for in players.
Do you want to be a high pressure defensive team? If so design your defensive drills to reflect what you are looking for.
o Be clear on what you are looking for. Have the players chant it back to you if you think it will help. But make the candidates know what is expected of them to make the team. If possible give advance warning of what is expected do so. I would post on my website what minimal requirements would be for tryouts e.g. level 11 on the beep test. The closer to tryouts the more information I would put on the site.
o Make sure there is some diversity in your drills.
So you want to be a high pressure defensive team. Where? In the half court? Full court? I had my mind set on a player who could direct his team-mates in the half court and play excellent defense in that setting. That is the setting I always saw him in. 3 on 3 etc. Then in a full court setting I realized he didn’t have the wheels to play in that setting. I still took that player and over the years he continued to get better at all aspects of his game. But you can see how you might fool yourself with your drills. The player didn’t fool you. You fooled yourself.
o Include drills that demonstrate player’s leadership qualities and good soldier qualities.
We can’t all be leaders, so make sure to grade players on whether they can follow instructions well. Teams need players that can take direction well.
o Include drills that demonstrate players hustle and toughness
o Include drills that can exclude players when you have large numbers trying out, and minimal time to submit your roster.
2. Get help
o Call in favours to get as many eyes as possible. Volunteer to help at other coach’s try-outs in exchange. It’s good practice for your own tryouts to be involved in others. I like to run stations especially on day one. I’ve had as many as 55 players trying out and luckily as many as ten coaches with me. When I say coaches, some of those maybe friends or students looking for volunteer hours. But you don’t have to have a lot of basketball knowledge to run a push-up station or a vertical jump station or time a sprint. You just need reliable people that are enthusiastic. My best tryouts my assistants and I have enough time to look for small things while stations are being run.
o Develop a grading system for your tryouts. For each event/drill/skill that you want the players to perform, have a standard grading system. This comes in handy for at least three reasons
Often it’s easy to pick out the top kids you want on your team; it becomes trickier to pick out the kids at the bottom of your roster. This takes some of the objectivity out of that decision. Do you pick a kid that is athletic and lacking in leadership or vice versa?
Be able to give feedback by having tangible scores that you can give back to the parents and players
You can point players in the right direction for next year. You can guide them on what they need to do to improve their chances.
You can also inform the parents of children why their son or daughter did not make the team, with some concrete proof. You wouldn’t be impressed if your child’s report card came home with only subjective comments.
o Consider running multiple stations at the same time and have players rotate from one station to another. Have each station manned with coaches that are informed on how to run the station, and how to grade the station.
3. Announce at your tryouts the tryout dates for other clubs in your area. Let players know that there are other options. I’m not really sure if my club endorsed this, but truly we just want to give kids an opportunity to get better. The more kids playing the better chance for improvement. I have called or emailed coaches at other clubs and invited them to my tryouts to see a kid who is on the boarder.
4. Provide players with some feedback and a program that will help them crack the nut next year. At the end of each tryout, I bring the players together and let them know that if they contact me I will give them a break down of what they need to improve on, and will design a program that will help them improve and improve their chances of making our team. I do this each year, even though I know it's the rare player that will take you up on the offer. Refer to upcoming blog on The Rare Player
If I can help you in any way with your tryouts please let me know.