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Club Directors Panel: Tryouts

The recruiting process has also accelerated the club team tryout timeline. A vast majority of club teams are now hosting tryouts in August and September to ensure their teams have been selected ahead of the November tournament circuit. This CDP asks what makes a good tryout?

This question could have been answered in two ways. One, we do this to ensure the club has a good experience. In other words, this is what we do to pick the best team for us. Or, we do this to ensure the athletes have a good experience. In other words, this is what we do to make the boys are learning something or feel like this is a fair opportunity. In some cases, the directors touched on both. Like the majority of the panels in the past, the questions we ask are open ended and often times the way directors choose to answer them provides superior insight into what they deem to be valuable. For example…

For me, a great tryout experience from the player’s perspective is one that lasts over two days so the boys have a chance to show some “coachability,” there are lots of coaches there evaluating and coaching so the boys are getting more than one look as well as learning from different, and the numbers are appropriate. Obviously, if you’re operating a dynasty at the high school level, it makes sense to have 90 plus athletes there.

From a directors point of view, I would absolutely spend more time in drills than games because I want to know who is not only willing to listen but also who has the ability to take instruction and implement into their game right away. I surmise there is nothing worse than trying to communicate to a young man who doesn’t want to listen in an afternoon game in July, especially if you’re losing.  Getting to know the players as best as possible over a two day process is critical. Likewise, I’d want to spend some time with the parents. No one wants to be around over bearing parents or parents who make excuses for their children.

One thing I would absolutely add to the tryout process if I ever ran a local club team would be to film the sessions and take my time with the coaching staff to review the tape. The Minnesota Loons put this idea into my head. Other clubs might do it as well. Billy McKinney of Big 4 in Philadelphia takes about the idea of putting together the best team rather than the best dodgers. Having film from tryouts would guarantee the chance to select the best collection of parts.

Matt Ramsay of Connecticut Valley, Billy McKinney of Big 4, and Mark Petrone of Mesa Fever Fresh (Philadelphia) are new contributors to the panel this week. (You’re probably familiar with Coach Petrone from the Haverford School instructional video.)

Both the new guys and returners crushed it with their answers. Saddle up for 2,500+ words.

How do you create a good tryout experience?

Connecticut Valley

Tryouts can be a very stressful time for players. We feel that from the time a player approaches us to making the decision to either compete with Connecticut Valley, it is absolutely crucial to be as honest and up front as we can. In our experience, the more we communicate and the more detailed we are, the more positive of an experience these players will have.

One of the most important pieces of information that we communicate is how teams are selected; primarily by graduation year and secondly by ability level. Seeing how the fall season has many athletes competing in other sports, we typically will hold two events. This is done so that no player feels they have missed an opportunity for selection while not having to sacrifice one sport for another.

The clinic portion of our tryout event, in our opinion, allows the players to become more comfortable on the field with others they may have never met before while at the same time easing their own personal nerves as they may be picking up a stick for the first time since July. During the course of the day we make our focus not only evaluating talent, but also trying to demonstrate our coaching style so that players and their parents will see first hand how we like to operate and our approach to coaching lacrosse.

Once the players have been given adequate time to become acquainted, warm-up, and get all the kinks out we split the groups up according to graduation year. Each group will participate in short field scrimmages run by our coaching staff; our staff members who are not assisting in running the scrimmage will evaluate each player by splitting time equally observing each graduate level.

At the conclusion of the tryout we like to address all players with their parents so that nothing gets lost in translation. It is absolutely imperative that we continue our candor throughout this time so everyone has a clear idea as to what Connecticut Valley is about as a program, what people can expect, how the teams are chosen and importantly what they can expect to hear from us. As much as they are trying out to compete for us, we are competing for the player with our knowledge, coaching, and the players’ on field experience.

Big 4

My first point of emphasis when I address the players at the start of a tryout is- treat others as you would like to be treated.  I tell them this because I do not want any players to get injured during the tryout.  I follow it up by telling them that the staff will not hesitate to ask someone to leave if they are playing in an unsportsmanlike manner.

The tryout process is challenging for players.  Tryouts force an individual (in our case, an adolescent individual) to perform to the best of their capability in front of their peers and parents.  In addition to the players, I think it is imperative for club directors to follow the “treat others as you would like to be treated” advice when running a tryout.  Sending a group of players home prior to the completion of a tryout, in my opinion, is not the right way to treat a kid.  I understand that it is beneficial to have the top players competing against one and other during evaluations.  That said, I do not believe improving my ability to evaluate players is worth the expense of shattering a group of players’ confidence by having them perform a walk of shame past their peers to their parent’s car.

I believe a good tryout creates opportunities for every skill-set to be evaluated.  We try to put together the best team through our tryout.  We are not looking for the eighteen best 1v1 dodgers and the eight best 1v1 defenders.  In order to make this happen, I put a plan together with varying drills and factor in enough time for our coaches to clearly demonstrate what we are looking for from the players in each drill because it is difficult to perform at a high level if an individual is unsure of what is expected.  We explain a drill to the entire group, then separate to multiple areas to run the drill in an attempt to maximize player involvement.

I always end a tryout by explaining that our tryout is not the final chapter of a player’s career.  Being selected at the tryout is not a defining moment.  This year I am able to drive that point home by referencing two players that were not selected to be on our top 8th grade team, but were mentioned in IL’s top 25 2017 players in the country.

Mesa Fresh Fever

Creating a great tryout experience is about showcasing the players strengths and introducing the players to our Mesa Fresh Fever Program. Our core motive it to develop players and have them improve during the time we have with them no matter if it is a tryout or practice or game. Before we start tryouts it is important for us to communicate our philosophy to the players and parents. We speak to everyone as a group about why we do what we do.

Another important step is to lower the anxiety of the players so they can focus on playing lacrosse. Our coaches explain every drill and why we do those drills in great detail.  Some players are very young and it might be the first time they are trying out for anything, so it is essential to get them comfortable by explaining what is expected of them in terms they understand. We hope every player listens, learns and improves during our time together. Our coaches are coaching the whole time, but also have to evaluate thoroughly so no one is overlooked. Lacrosse is very important to these players or they would not be there so we have to be clear and direct, but handle player’s egos with care.

Our drills are fast paced and create a lot of repetitions so every player gets to play a lot, we try to simulate game situations and see how players react in those situations. Our evaluators take notes on every player and rank players in order by position. Along with seeing who the best players are, we try to communicate the areas where they can improve.

3d

We model our tryouts on our training. We run players through a session to see how they adapt to the pace, environment and demands of a 3d Practice. This allows us to evaluate players skill level, innate lacrosse IQ and coach ability. In very few occasions do the players actual just play full field.

To ensure thorough evaluations, we essentially double our staffing for the day so as to have ample coaches as well as evaluators who aren’t charged with coaching a cage. Things vary from region to region. In New England for example we actually hold an invite only tryout. This allows us to have some control on both the numbers and the talent level. In other, less talent dense, areas we hold open tryouts.

NXT

We want our tryout experience to be first class from start to finish. For everybody at NXTsports,  club tryout weekends are all-hands-on-deck affairs. We want the experience that players and  parents have to exceed their expectations, so we treat tryouts like the major events that they are.That experience includes user-friendly online registration, tryouts at an elite venue and offering multiple days for players to try out. With ample staff – we like an 8-to-1 player to coach ratio – and help from the rest of our NXT Family, the check-in process is a well-oiled machine that makes it easy for the player to get to the good stuff on the field.

The most important part of the experience is what happens on the field. We want people to know who we are and what we are about, so we send our a detailed practice plan for each tryout session and then run things accordingly.We will coach every kid at every session, whether they’re likely to make our team or not. Every coach has a clipboard with evaluation sheets and full information for every player in their  groups.

Our tryout plans always revolve around our “Play Fast” curriculum and core drills, which  help get everybody involved and playing in unsettled situations. The goal is for each player is to get lots of reps, touches, and to have success offensively and defensively so that they leave that day feeling like they got to play a lot of good lacrosse and had fun doing it.

A few clubs on this panel operate dynasty teams at the high school level while others host tryouts for every grade level every year.

Why do you hold tryouts every year or keep the teams together after a certain grade level?

Connecticut Valley

We hold tryouts each season because we are still a growing program; we will not expand beyond 4 teams, but each season see a previous years class move on and a new class move in. Teams are divided into levels based upon graduation year first and then skill level (as assessed at the tryout).

We’ve also found that, in our case, it’s tough to keep the same group of players on the same team through their time with our program. Every player develops at a different pace and the level they compete at during the Summer/Fall Season should not only reflect their on-field goals, but provide a positive environment for their growth to the next level.

Big 4

We run tryouts each year for every age group at the middle school level.  Once a player is selected to participate on our 8th grade team, he is invited to play with us through high school.

I believe that a middle school player should play club lacrosse to have fun and to develop as a player.  Holding a tryout each year for the middle school age group gives us the opportunity to reevaluate players and make adjustments to the roster in an attempt to field the best team each season.  I feel strongly that a significant factor of athletic success is peer-driven, so we do our best to put players in a situation that allows them to play with and against a talented peer group.

I think high school players should play club lacrosse to have fun, develop as a player, and to be showcased in front of college coaches. Keeping the same group of players together through high school is, in my opinion, positive for parents and players. Parents of high school players make a serious commitment when they give their son the opportunity to play club lacrosse. It is expensive and it puts serious limitations on the ability to vacation.

Keeping a group of players together through high school allows the parents to plan trips together and do what they can to give trips a vacation-like feeling.  The players in our organization are forging lifelong friendships. Those friendships keep us going through the third game of a tournament held in Baltimore during a heat wave. The chemistry between our players on the field is impressive and I think it allows them to show well when performing in front of college coaches. I do not believe we would have the on-field chemistry and the off-field friendships without keeping the high school groups together through a ‘dynasty’ approach.

NJ Riot

We employ a dynasty format for high school teams, because the boys stay together and develop a strong relationship knowing that they will be together. There is a much greater sense of team and brand. And finally, it allows the player to work on their game and not play tight, which is an issue when they are concerned of being cut.negatives- potential complacency..motivation..kids not developing forward year to year.brand loses out on yearly tryout revenue.

We make it clear that boys have to put the work in..playing time is earned and not guaranteed. This issue of tryouts each year has become an issue in NJ as of late, as one particular club has cut players that are very good and that they have developed in lieu of a higher end player from another club to finish off their recruiting and take credit. The tryout revenue is lucrative and as long as players are trying out where there are actually spots available..then all good.

Mesa Fresh Fever

Our core motive is to develop the overall player and help them improve. We have annual tryouts for our players in 3rd through 8th grade to give each player a chance so show off the work they have done. Young players can make tremendous gains in a short period of time. We give each player a clean slate each year to showcase their improving skills.

Nothing is more exciting than seeing a player raise the level of their game. Most of our teams in 3rd through 8th grade stay the same, but we always add players that are working hard.

Our high school program is also a grade level program but does not have annual tryouts. We retain the same core of players from year to year. We add a few players every year, but the nucleus stays 99% the same. At the high school club level it is important to have a cohesive team so the players are comfortable with each other.  We feel the better the players know each other, the better they will play and showcase their skills to college coaches.

3d

Again it depends on the region and age group. We are always looking to improve the talent in our pool of players.

Most of our regions are moving to a model of holding tryouts for each age group, every year.

NXT

Our club was founded in 2010 under the principle that we wanted to create a club experience in Philadelphia that focused on practice and player development with just one constant roster and team for each grade. At the high school level, players that make our team through open tryouts in September of their freshman years are able to stay together for the next three years as we practice and compete year-round. We have enjoyed the process and seen success with this, with our first team, NXT 2014, now in their freshman year of college life. The same three coaches stay with each team for three years, hopefully developing not just lacrosse players but young men with strong character and a drive to be the best in whatever they do.

On the youth end of our program (3rd-8th grade), we do hold tryouts each year. As a new club program, we’ve been fortunate to have players from lots of different schools that have spread the word about their NXT experience and each year we have more people from different areas interested in joining our club. For our third, fourth and fifth grade groups, we are loyal to our Cradle and Trashcan Lacrosse veterans and really focus on teaching the game in the right environment so that our kids can have fun and feel confident in what they do with lacrosse. Our sixth, seventh and eighth grade groups have grown to be very competitive over the last two years now that we offer year-round programming and lots of box lacrosse opportunities.

Although we do have to make cuts for our oldest teams, people seem to understand how competitive things have become and they respect the fact that we do not just offer “B” teams to make a buck. We do not want to dilute what we do.

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Catch up on previous Club Directors Panels:

Want to talk recruiting, club teams, tournaments or camps? Leave a comment in the comments section or tweet me at @4onetwolax or @AmRevolutionLax.