How to Run Better Lacrosse Tryouts: Less Is More! By Mike Muetzel, LaxCoachMike.com
I used to dread the one- or two-day tryout. As a coach, I always felt as though tryouts were kind of a political necessity, a mandatory process to give every kid a chance. When in fact in my heart, I knew the majority of the roster, from returning players, and I hated to use the critical time that may have been better spent devoted to practice. And tryouts take a lot of planning, time, and energy, and often we had 60 or more players on the field at the same time, which alone was a huge challenge.
Perhaps like you, we had numerous stations, numerous evaluators, logistical issues of trying to run the activity and evaluate talent, trying to watch and write at the same time, and a mixture of talent levels from kids that could really play down to kids who struggled to throw and catch.
Over the years, I have learned a few things. First, less is more. At least for me, having fewer stations, fewer activities, and a far simpler evaluation form has made the process so much easier. I also have learned a lot from Joel Franklin and Tony Souza, who invited me to be a part of the Adidas National Tryouts here in Georgia. They run many tryouts across the country, and I will reference a number of their philosophies. Here are some ideas that might very well improve the process for you as well. The unique form they use to do the evaluations is awesome, and I cover it at the end of the article.
Before discussing the basics, let me first suggest the most important step is to line up your evaluation team. It is impossible to give 60 kids a fair look with two coaches. Remember that this is a tryout, not a display of your strategies or proprietary offensive and defensive philosophies. So having outsiders is a positive for the tryout. There are more options than you might think. And at the end of the day, the number of ‘bubble' players will be only a handful compared to the total trying out, and you as head coach still have the final call. In addition to your staff coaches, you have some options: 1. Former players
2. Local club coaches
3. Rec coaches
4. Local referees
5. Girls' team coaches
I have been blessed with having great players who also turn into great former players. Having three or four returning starters can be a huge benefit and build the culture of your program. If yours is a rec team, having local high school players on the evaluation team can also be a tremendous asset. You will need no less than five or six evaluators, although seven is the optimum. This allows more eyes on each player as well as a coach to run the stations while the others evaluate.
The basics of preparation also include a detailed practice plan and a number of copies for evaluators or even over-zealous parents interested in the process. Also have the appropriate number of clipboards, extra whistles, pens, and extra evaluation sheets. You also need to inform the tryout candidates to bring a penny, if you do not have 60 dedicated pennies.
But most importantly, and I cannot stress it enough, you need a different number assigned to each player. If you do not have enough individually numbered pennies, then use large numbered sheets of paper safety-pinned to the jersey. And we will need two sheets, one pinned to each side of the jersey or penny. In my tryout recommendations, the evaluation record for each player is done by listing only the number. A registration record of each player and their assigned number is also needed, as we will reference the list at the midway point of the full-field scrimmage. Remember, many evaluators do not know the players by name, and that is a good thing.
Again, my 30+ years of experience tells me that less can be more. I like to run fewer stations and more full-field scrimmage. So then we divide the players into two or three stations. I have listed some of my favorite tryout stations below. Players are in each station for 10 minutes and then rotate.
After a very brief warm-up (we need the time for the actual tryout), I might break into a small number of stations that will run for 10 minutes or have them do it simultaneously. First, we have a station with some basic shooting drills for the short sticks, attack and middies. Whether you include the poles is up to you; I usually include them. These drills will give you an immediate read on which poles can handle the stick or go with their weaker hand. I used to run individual player shooting evaluations, right and left hand, scoring on a scale from one to five. It took a ton of effort, and every coach/evaluator had a different scale in his own mind. Keeping it fast paced and moving has been so much more effective.
Next, I suggest a 3v2 station. Now in most cases we are on a single field, and in the interest of space, I put one of the cages on the sideline on one end of the field and run the 3v2 on a ‘baby' half field. In this station, we have short sticks and poles. The reason I love 3v2 here is that it opens up the field and allows evaluators to get a clear picture of who can move the ball as well as the very basics of sliding and field acumen for the defenders. It might surprise you, but in this station we run the poles on both offense and defense. Defense players also need to look up and recognize the open man.
The final station is the 4v4. We have learned form the best NCAA coaches that this is the best way for the players to demonstrate their skills in an even scenario. It opens up the field for the players to see as well as drive. In this station, we have short sticks as well as poles, but the poles play only defense. We also throw in some variations. The first time out in a group, the first player to get the ball from the coach is not allowed to pass before he drives to the cage. Or possibly on the second rotation (we usually leave four offensive and four defensive players out on the field for two reps) on the first pass the defense needs to double the ball. And of course on either rotation, if the defense or goalies get the ball, they immediately clear, and the next eight players come out.
Following the three stations, we are now about 40-45 minutes in. We used 10 minutes for warm-ups and 30 minutes for the three stations.
Short Full Field – Ten Minutes
At this point, I love to use 3v2 on a 70-yard full field. Many coaches run this drill. The goalie passes the ball to a streaking outlet player. Three offensive players sprint the 70-yard short field, where two defenders are waiting to play 3v2. The play is very quick. In my version, the last player to touch the ball or the shooter goes into one of the three lines behind the cage and the other two become the new defenders for when the ball comes back down. The goalie makes a save, or the defender gets the ball, throws back to the goalie, who hits one of the three players breaking out to go downfield, coming from the lines behind the cage, and quickly we go up and down. This gives the evaluators and idea of team speed and individual speed in transition. Again in this drill we use all the players, poles and shorties, in all positions. If you need more information on this drill in more detail, just send me an e-mail.
Now we are at about 50 minutes in ... the kids get water, we split the teams into two groups, and we run a full field scrimmage for two 20-minute halves.
In the full field scrimmage, an evaluator or coach takes each team, purely to expedite the rotations of the players. The other evaluators simply are on the field with their clipboards evaluating talent. Every 10 minutes, the coaches/evaluators on the field take a sideline, and we rotate coaches to allow all evaluators field time. To make sure we make the best use of the full field scrimmage, coaches need to be very aware of the following: 1. Every player interested in facing off gets a chance to do multiple face-offs.
2. The teams must be even, so if it is lopsided, switch some players from each team.
3. Attack and defenders need to be mixed, not just with the same partners.
4. Feature a lot of rides, clears, and face offs.
5. CRITICAL: At the midpoint of the scrimmage, the coaches meet to go through the numbers of every player present at the tryout.
The last point is really important. Midway in the scrimmage, give the kids a water break. The coaches meet with their evaluation sheets (see below) and compare numbers. We want to have at least two sets of eyes on each number registered. For example, if none of the evaluators has written down a player, then we want to make sure we evaluate him in the second half of the scrimmage. This is really important, so we can honestly say that at least two or more coaches evaluated every individual.
I want to give credit to the folks at Adidas for the tryout form pictured below. It is simple but effective. And you will be amazed at how it all comes out in the end. Each evaluator has the same basic form, which has just three columns: those who can definitely play, those who might be able to play, and those who definitely cannot play.
Throughout the two-hour tryout, evaluators write the jersey number of a player in the appropriate column. If he is a really good player, list him on the far left of the ‘can definitely play' column. If he is weaker but in that same column, maybe write his number in the middle or right hand side of the appropriate column.
Following the scrimmage, we still have a few minutes. Each coach/evaluator then circles the top numbers in each column on his form. I ask for five on attack, nine for middies, and five for defense plus two LSMs and one or two goalies. It is amazing how often coaches will have the same numbers circled. This usually limits the ‘bubble' list to two or three middies and possibly one or two on attack or defense. Now instead of hours of dialog on 25 potential players, we discuss as a group the three or four we need to make decisions on for the final roster.
I hope this gives you some great ideas, and remember, less can be more!
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