It’s still January and our team selection process is already under way. The small college where I coach finished this process a week ago, and now the high school team roster is being carefully built. There has been a lot of focus on what makes a young athlete the right fit for our program, and there are two categories that will earn that spot- the highly desired rank of “varsity player.”
Just what are coaches looking for? From the outside looking in, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to team selection. The superstar, obvious choice of course, but what about that one player who has never held a stick before? How in the world did that player make it over the other player that’s been around for several years and plays all year long at tournaments and on club teams? Is it political? Is there some strange formula?
Chances are that a player who is selected is going to fall into two categories, player A, Player B or maybe a little of both. Player A is the highly skilled athlete who has been driven to become a craftsman in sport. These athletes hit the wall every day, they can throw and catch with both hands, are in peak condition, multi-sport athletes that can often play offense and defense with almost equal intensity. These are usually genetically gifted athletic kids that live and breathe competition. Category A is what grabs the attention of coaches easily, because they stand out. If you are in this category then you’ve got a great chance of getting that coveted team jersey.
But there’s another category that is so important that a coach is willing to select a player who falls completely outside category A. This player may have never held a stick in their life, never seen a game, but they have something else. It’s something that can’t be taught like catching, throwing, and dodging. This is player B, and if you’re new to a sport, it could very well be your ticket onto that team.
When Im selecting players I ask myself the following questions, for each and every player. If I don’t know the answer then I track down that player and I give them a couple tests until I know exactly what kind of teammate they would be.
- If I give them a correction, do they attempt to fix the mechanics or show that they are thinking about how to do it in the way I ask, or do they insist on repeating their mistake because they are afraid to try it a different way?
- Do they look like they enjoy coming to practice, or do they seem distracted, bored, or complain a lot? Do they talk when Im talking, or do they respect the coaches knowledge with the desire to learn more?
- Do they attempt to FINSH every task, even if they know they are not good at it yet? Do they FINISH every run, even if they are the last one and have to crawl in at the end at a snails pace?
- Do they help getting the balls, cones, etc from the field, or do they let the rest of the players get them instead?
- Do they ask questions and seek to learn?
- Do they make improvements each day? Are they competitive, trying to be the best they can- no matter what the activity?
- Have I heard them offer praise or encouragement to another player?
- Are they on time, have their equipment and dressed appropriately for the weather? Do they call if they will be late or follow through on responsibilities?
- Are they task focused during drills, knowing when it’s their turn, listening carefully to directions and willing to assist others.
- When they are tired, do they give just a little bit more?
Player B may not be highly skilled, but their attitude and willingness to learn coupled with their great teammate qualities mean that a coach will feel confident that the skills can be taught and learned quickly and efficiently. I can teach anyone who has the desire to learn to throw and catch, but I don’t have time to deal with a player who won’t attempt to improve or contribute to their teammates success.
What about player C? This player has played for a while, shows up for activities, plays on club teams and then suddenly gets cut during tryouts. This player goes through the motions, shows up for practice and participates but never really has any focus. Player C may play on club teams but they don’t really have any desire to learn, often chooses to do the easiest task possible, cheats those last few steps of every sprint, cuts some corners, and may be daydreaming when lessons are being taught. To the outside world this player seems like an easy pick for a team, but coaches want players who are hungry- hungry to learn, hungry to grow, and player C has become complacent. Player C often loses their spot as soon as a young, hungry player B comes along.
How will your coach see you at tryouts this season? 😀