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Tryouts: The Worst Part of Coaching
by Alex Kos, March 5th, 2010 10AM
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TAGS:  youth boys, youth girls

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By Alex Kos

For many young players, there is nothing more nerve-wracking than trying out for a team. The reasons are plentiful. A player is:

* Competing against players who may be much better than them.

* Being evaluated by a brand new coach and is being ranked and rated.

* Dealing with the internal pressure of possibly not making the team.

The tryout is not much easier for the coach. Sure it is fun to see and evaluate new talent, especially when a player you have never seen before or heard anything about makes a favorable impression. But there is usually nothing harder a coach will have to do the whole season than having to tell a young player that he or she did not make the team.

As a coach for a number of competitive teams, I have learned over the years some very good practices that make these difficult decisions easier for the coaches as well as for the players and parents.

* Before the final roster is announced or posted, the players who did not make the team need to be called.

* If a parent answers, tell the parent why you are calling and when you are done with him or her that you would like to speak to Billy personally. As I wrote in a previous post titled, "Player, Parents, and Coach Meetings and Evaluations," tell the parent the good aspects of Billy’s game and character and then a few things that he needs to work on.

Also tell the parent that you want to send a thank you letter to Billy that will include an overview of the positives and what he should work on. An email could work, but a letter is more meaningful.

* If the player answers, take a deep breath and proceed with the unwanted news in a caring and nurturing manner. When you are done, make sure you get an opportunity to talk with a parent.

* If there is no answer, leave a message asking them to call you back. Don’t leave a message saying Billy did not make the team. If they don't call back and the next day there is still no answer, send them an email.

* After the tryouts and throughout the season, make yourself available to the players who did not make the team as well as to the parents. Provide them with your email address and tell them they can contact you any time.

* Remember the names and faces of the players who did not make your team. When you run into them, call them by name and ask how they are doing. (I am terrible with names so when I don't remember a name, I ask them to remind me).

* Try getting the names of the teams that these players end up playing for. Keep this information in a paper notebook you carry with you in a PDA or phone. When you happen across a game that features one of these teams, watch the game. If time permits, talk with the player and parents after the game. If you see improvement in Billy's game, especially in the areas you mentioned that needed work, mention it. If you don't have time, send them an email.

* At some point during the season, send an email to the players who did not make the team and their parents inquiring how things are going.

* Make sure that during the tryouts the players and parents know how you intend to contact everyone with the results so there are no surprises.

Yes, taking the time to call 10, 20, or 30-plus players is time consuming and composing notes about the positives and areas for improvement for each player requires a great deal of effort.

But I believe, especially with young players, tryouts must not be a bad experience. Taking the extra time and effort and showing care and compassion will mean a lot to the players and their parents who did not make the team.

Don’t expect everyone to thank you for your efforts, but in the long run, these players and parents will appreciate you.

(Alex Kos' experiences as a player, coach, referee, parent and fan are shared in his blog, Improving Soccer in the United States, where this article first appeared.)



0 comments
  1. Kent James
    commented on: March 8, 2010 at 1:12 a.m.
    Excellent advice. People who have demonstrated enough interest in your team to try out for it deserve to be treated with respect, and clearly your methods go above and beyond, and I'm sure will benefit you in the long run. I think sometimes the numbers of people trying out may preclude the kind of personalized attention you use, but doing any of those things sure beats the "don't call us, we'll let you know if we're interested in you" attitude that I've witnessed. The ability of youth players can dramatically change over time, so keeping options open and encouraging players to continue to improve will only expand your pool of potential players. Good stuff.
  1. Lewis Woodward
    commented on: March 12, 2010 at 10:51 a.m.
    Important information here for all youth coaches. Remember the impact your decision can have on kids, and treat it as something they will benefit from at some point down the road. Not making my high school varsity team as a sophmore was one of the pivotal experiences I had in terms of gaining that inner-motivation needed to become a better athlete as you get older, I always share that with players that I am not offering spots to. One parent I spoke with this year was very upset, even though I had prepared them of the possibility. I reminded him that we sign up kids in sports for the character-building experience, and there was nothing richer in that area than this. He called me back the next evening, and told me that he realized after our discussion that this was a great thing to prepare her for hearing from UCLA next year - her dream school, but with 3.0 grades, she's not likely to make it. You have to assure parents that in the long run, this is the best decision for the player, as well as the team. I do disagree with the comment about when the kid answers the phone. I made that mistake once, and have never just dropped the bomb on the kid first again. I explain to parents my reasoning, then I ask them if they want me to tell the player on the phone, if they want to do it, or if they want to meet me in private at the field if it's a former player. Parents appreciate it, and you have a better chance of getting them to back-up your reasoning if they have had some time to consider. If you tell the kid first, you risk an emotional response that the parents will react angrily to - turning the coach into the bad guy, rather than setting the experience up as a long-term positive one. Lastly, there's nothing better than cutting a player, then having them return the next year motivated from the experience, stronger and hungrier than before.

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