• June 06, 2016


Some thoughts from the Positive Coaching Alliance:

The typical local youth sports organization, such as a Little League Baseball or Softball charter, holds tryouts to help determine which players join which “house league” team. With some variations based on local traditions, league rules, and how many players are available to assign to teams, here are guidelines for conducting tryouts.

1. Consider the best way to refer to “tryouts.” Recognize that especially at younger ages, players may be nervous. Even the word “tryout” has overtones that may strike fear in the heart of a young athlete. Some leagues instead conduct a “skills assessment.” After all, if every player will be able to join one team or another, and nobody will be cut, why not ease fears?

2. Introduce the tryout procedures to all players and parents assembled at once. It will help put everyone’s mind at ease to know that league management is organized and has put forethought into the tryout process. Having everyone hear the same message reduces potential concerns of favouritism or other issues that can creep into the eventual player draft or other methods of assigning players to teams. While introducing the tryout procedure, use welcoming, encouraging language that helps relax players, so they can perform their best. For example, “Thank you all for turning out for Anytown Sports. I can see that we have a lot of eager young athletes, who are ready to perform their best and have a lot of fun. Our coaches and other volunteers are here to help, so don’t be shy about asking any questions along the way.”

3. Do your best to be perceived as treating the players equally. This might mean giving all of the players nametags (maybe even one for their front and one for their back!). Then do your best to refer to all players by name (not just the ones you know already). Some people prefer to have the players wear numbers during the tryouts, and if you go this route, make sure to refer to all of the players by their numbers, as players and parents will certainly notice if you are referring to some of the athletes by name (and others by number). Finally, do your best to have each athlete get about the same number of repetitions/playing time during the tryout.

4. Make the tryout procedure as simple as possible. While players and parents are still assembled, point to various stations where players’ skills will be assessed. Each station should be clearly labelled with numbered signs or colour-coding. So, the assembly leader might say: “If you are in the A group, start at station A. Coach John will demonstrate the skill we want to see, and when all of Group A is finished, Coach John will direct you to station B.”

5. Clearly explain the process that occurs at each station. Again, doing all you can to relax players, explain exactly what you want them to do. Give specific instruction in fundamentals of the skill you want to see demonstrated, and then explain how you want them to get back in line or move off to the side after completing their turn. It helps to run a demonstration using players of about the same age (maybe one year older) who already are familiar with how that station runs.

6. Reassemble to explain what’s next. When all players have completed all stations, reassemble players and parents, thank them again for participating, congratulate the players on their efforts, and let them all know what to expect next, such as a web site posting or phone call telling them of their team assignment.

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Coach Responses

How do you handle tryouts?

What are some best practices, tips and tricks you use to evaluate skills?

How do you make it comfortable for athletes and families through the stress of the tryouts?

Share your tips and best practices!

Coach – Swimming – Waterloo – 20 Years

“…Firstly, instead of specifying a day/time/place work with a softer approach, such as visiting the athlete on their playing field, or setting up multiple open houses, or have camps during the season that is open for anyone to sign up…Never make tryouts a do or die situation…

Secondly, always give the athletes the opportunity to come out for future sessions to engage with the team and build their skill set…

Thirdly, give outside opportunities to those athletes who do tryout; just because that athlete may not fit into your specific team this year, does not mean you cannot liaise with other clubs…

Fourthly, always look for the good. Try to focus on the good things that the athlete is doing and avoid dwelling on the negatives…”

Coach Kelly – Basketball – Ottawa – 10 Years

“…During a tryout I am often watching the players to see how they accept instruction and correction. I look to see how they appear to be handling the pressure of the tryout against the other more talented players…Most of all, when I work with coaches, they often ask me to engage particular athletes they are considering in a short conversation, where I question them about situations in their past that were challenging. This gives me a sense of how much more (or less) I will need to work with them during the season on how to turn adversity into challenging FUN…”

Coach Ray – Hockey – Mississauga – 6 Years

“…I always start out by playing a game, to break the ice…I like to ensure the athletes are in a more relaxed setting and I try to provide one on one feedback…I sit down with each athlete about what we are looking for, provide encouragement and feedback, and I ask questions to gain their perspective…”

Coach Jocelyn – Soccer – Oakville – 8 Years

“…I always sit down with the athlete and explain what it is that I am looking for. I let them know that making the team isn’t a sign of failure but an area of further development and improvement…Instead of using the word tryout, I call it a showcase, so they can show me what they are able to do. A showcase focuses more on themselves and what they can carry out as opposed to comparing themselves to others…”

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