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Tales from the Tryouts
by Mike Woitalla, February 5th, 2014 3:54PM

TAGS:  youth boys, youth girls


By Mike Woitalla

The kids wear bibs with numbers and the coaches walk around with clipboards jotting notes.

They play 1v1s, 2v2s, flying-changes, 4v4s …

One young boy sprints down the sidelines, brilliantly avoiding a tackle by flicking the ball over the defender’s leg. As he continues dribbling, he looks back at us with the clipboards -- no doubt checking if we saw that.

A coach is dividing up a hundred 8-year-old boys and directs eight of them to go to Coach X, points, and says, “The young man by the corner flag.” … “He’s not very young!” shouts one boy. Followed up by another’s, “He’s not!”

We’re all chuckling and the tryouts don’t seem so stressful anymore.

When I first dealt with tryouts as a coach, I hated them. Way back in my childhood, tryouts presented themselves when you hit high-school age. Now we subject elementary school kids, and I felt uncomfortable with that.

But mainly I dreaded tryouts because my role included calling the kids who didn’t get picked -- and worst of all, cutting players from my previous season’s team.

Now as a “support coach” -- setting up cones, offering a few opinions, not doing the cutting -- it’s actually an enjoyable experience, watching kids of different ages and backgrounds playing soccer at various levels. The tryouts are set up so well that the players get ample opportunity to display their talent -- and the kid who wonders whether a coach “saw that” can be confident one did, because we’ve got so many coaches on the field.

Now I have fewer reservations about the tryout experience for youngsters. Over the years I’ve seen so many of the same players return -- whether or not their previous tryout turned out how they had hoped. And those who don’t make an elite team will still have a team to play on.

One of the most satisfying parts of the tryout process is watching the top groups at the end of the last day, and little children are playing great, entertaining soccer. But the impressions that last the longest are from the kids who struggle with soccer skills or athleticism -- yet they try so hard.

There’s one boy. When defending, he always arrives late. His passes and shots almost never meet the target. How could they when his plant foot isn’t planted or the ball springs off his toe? He’s a big kid, but turns timid whenever an opponent nears. Yet his enthusiasm and effort never wane.

A fellow coach notices I’ve been watching him and says: “He comes every year and never makes it.”

And I’m thinking that kid may never become a soccer star, but he’ll succeed grandly in some other field.

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, is co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper and co-author with Claudio Reyna of More Than Goals: The Journey from Backyard Games to World Cup Competition. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at Woitalla coaches youth soccer in Northern California at East Bay United/Bay Oaks.)

Soccer America on Twitter: Follow Soccer America | Mike Woitalla

  1. Mark Konty
    commented on: February 5, 2014 at 4:30 p.m.
    That big kid who comes every year would be on my select team. You can't coach intangibles, but you can coach technique and tactics.

  1. Kent James
    commented on: February 5, 2014 at 4:41 p.m.
    I don't think there should be "elite" teams at U8 (or U10). Tryouts are probably the most efficient way to sort talent, but for clubs training young "elite" players, I'd hope they'd be willing to train everyone (regardless of talent level), and just use tryouts to sort the kids (so that the more talented kids can train at a higher level, with the less talented kids working on the basics). But especially at a young age, the kids should be moved between the groups (and the coaches), so they recognize that these groupings are not permanent classifications.

  1. Ken Crenshaw
    commented on: February 5, 2014 at 5 p.m.
    Agree with Kent. Feels like the divide is created at too young an age...possibly causing those kids to go off and try another sport. They have many choices in the US...and I'd rather see us help improve players vs possibly pushing them away from soccer. That kids that shows up every year...does he ever get feedback on how he can improve? Maybe help build his confidence so when he encounters an opponent, he's more comfortable. Or is he just told to work hard...and try again next year?

  1. Amos Annan
    commented on: February 5, 2014 at 6:33 p.m.
    Tryouts should never happen before age 12. The only reason they exist prior to this is MONEY and vanity soccer leagues. Every study on child sports agrees, but people who make money promoting this don't (go figure).

  1. Kevin Sims
    commented on: February 5, 2014 at 7:40 p.m.
    What Kent James said ... youth soccer: keep everybody if at all possible, by sorting them into levels if necessary and creating as many teams as necessary ... I have HS tryouts coming up and the cut phase is my worst day each season ... yet I will be as upfront and as "compassionately, brutally honest" as I can muster while finding as many reasons to encourage as possible

  1. Wesley Hunt
    commented on: February 5, 2014 at 8:01 p.m.
    Agree with Mark. I love a kid with perserverence. Would pick him everytime over natural talent that takes it for granted. I have several kids that would not have been given a second glance at 9-10 years old that at 14-16 are becoming the best in this area skill wise. Why? Because they became obsessed with the ball and the game and kept at training, playing futsal and pick up games with out being overly distracted by all the other sports and activities that are avalible. My club is very low cost, we have all volunteer coaches, no try outs, you recruit your own players. Many will drop out over the years. The ones that stay you really get attached to. What I have discovered is that developing high skill at anything is not rocket science.... It just takes time, persitance, and desire. Tryouts at age 12 or younger will pick a bunch of athletes but there is no way you can access their charachter and hearts in such short notice. Not sure it is such a good idea.

  1. Armin Salinas II
    commented on: February 6, 2014 at 12:38 a.m.
    I am a coach with a big club in San Diego CA and we give all levels of ability the opportunity to play. Last year I coached the 6th team in our BU13 bracket at the AA-C and even with a couple of players promoting and few players moving to other clubs this team will move on into the U14 bracket. There is always away to give players good coaching if developing players is your clubs mission. I am proud to say this year I will coach the 2nd and 5th teams in our BU9 age group.

  1. Randy Vogt
    commented on: February 6, 2014 at 7:14 a.m.
    Great article, Mike! I was one of the kids who got cut and remember it to this day as it felt so bad to be excluded. I moved to Long Island when I was 12 years old in 1974, at the start of the youth soccer boom. Several months later, I tried out for a travel team and got cut. If I had made the team, it would have been a great way to make friends, especially as I was new in town. I worked hard and eventually made the travel team of a slightly different organization and became a MVP of a very mediocre HS team. Of the kids who made that travel team four decades ago, I don’t remember any standout players (myself included) but none had the passion for the sport that I did at a time when soccer was not as cool as it is today. I stayed involved in soccer and became a referee a few years later while the other kids dropped out. Who knew?

  1. cony konstin
    commented on: February 9, 2014 at 11:44 a.m.
    We don't need more coaches or tryouts. What we need is a soccer revolution. We need 60,000 Futsal courts where kids can play for free 7 days a week/365. The kids need a sandlot/playground environment where they can express themselves without adult interference. You want a war on drugs and youth obesity. 60,000 Futsal courts is a good beginning to help combat drugs and obesity. We don't need more tanks, fighter jets, nukes, prisons, and political mumbo jumbo. We need action. It is time for us to step up and do something for our country and especially for our kids. 60,000 Futsal courts we need them today.

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