Every year I get countless questions about what I look for during tryouts. I thought I’d summarize some of my thoughts on tryouts for everyone. Hopefully players, coaches and parents can get some value in these ideas.
So…what am I looking for at tryouts?
Character – This tells me more about you than any skill you may demonstrate on the ice. There are a lot of different pieces to this – I’ll cover just a few here:
Drive – are you continuously pushing yourself and giving it your best effort? If you’re not going to do that at tryouts, why would I think you’re going to do it in the State Championship game???
Mental toughness – if you make a mistake, how do you react to it? Guess what – every single player that’s ever played the game makes mistakes!
“Life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.” – John Maxwell
When you make a mistake, do you give up? grab another puck in the drill? slam your stick on the boards/ice (I categorize this as “pouting”…this is a pet peeve of mine)? When you make a mistake, brush yourself off, learn from it, and keep playing! Realize you WILL make mistakes, don’t hold yourself to the impossible standard of being perfect, or you’ll never live up to your own expectations and you’ll always be frustrated! Frustrated players seldom perform well!
Physical toughness – are you soft on the puck, or do you finish every check? Are you willing to take a hit to make a play, or will you bail out? Hockey is a physical game – I want players who are willing to be tough and put it all on the line in key situations.
Leadership – will you step up and lead a drill? Help other players out? Or will you sneak to the back of the line so that the coaches won’t notice your mistakes? Everyone is a leader, but in different ways. If you’re a talker – talk. If you’re a worker – work. If you’re enthusiastic – be enthusiastic.
Hockey Sense – Players who can see and read the ice well will make plays for you – even if their skill level isn’t at the same level as others. Hockey Sense is one of the more difficult aspects of our game to teach. I believe it can be taught, but not nearly as easily as skills.
Skill– the primary skill I look at is skating. If you can skate well, the rest of the game is easy. Good skaters will consistently win races to pucks, win battles in the corner, and put themselves in the better positions. I can’t think of a single hockey skill more important than skating.
Positional Play – if you’re in position, you’ve got a much better chance at making the proper play and/or decisions. Do I prefer players with skill over positioning? Absolutely! Don Lucia summarized it quite well by saying: “If you can’t do it technically, you can’t do it tactically.” If you’ve got the core skills down, teaching the proper positions shouldn’t be difficult.
The “Little Things” – this is also quite a large category. When I refer to “little things” I’m not referring to them being insignificant. To me, it’s the “little things” that make “big things” possible (such as championships). Many of these tie in closely with “Character”, but I’ll list a few of the “little things” that I look for.
Preparedness – did you come to the rink ready to go, or did your skates need to be sharpened…or did you forget your jerseys….or are you missing a piece of equipment. Those distractions before a game or tryout will be enough to drive any coach crazy. Make sure you’re ready to go when you get to the rink anytime – not just at tryouts.
Drill Wreckers – pay attention when coaches are explaining drills. There’s nothing more frustrating that a player who is fourth in line and messes the drill up after the first 3 executed it without problem. That’s a lack of focus!
Skate Hard to the Bench – if you’re scrimmaging, don’t slowly wander your way to the bench. Skate your butt off from the time you set foot on the ice until you’re back on the bench. The vast majority of players DON’T do this…so if you’re one of the few that does, coaches will notice!
Shooting Pucks After the Coach’s Whistle – as a coach, few things annoy me more than when players waste valuable ice time shooting pucks after the whistle has blown. If the coach blows the whistle, skate hard to the huddle (or next station).
Final Thoughts to Players….
I’ve got just a few final thoughts for any player going into tryouts. Don’t be an invisible player – if you’re afraid to make mistakes, most likely nobody will even realize you’re on the ice. You’ll just sort of blend in with every other player on the ice. During tryouts, it’s good to stand out – even if sometimes it’s for the wrong reasons. Here’s a scenario I see every year……
we’re running a full ice 1 on 1 drill…the forward makes a move, the defenseman catches an edge and falls over. The forward walks in (now on a breakaway) and finishes the drill. 99% of the time, what does the defenseman do – gives up on the play.
Don’t be that player – now you’ve got 2 things working against you. First, you fell over in a 1 on 1 drill…which is never a good thing, but more importantly, you just QUIT. Next time something like that happens to you, get up and chase down that forward – no matter how far ahead he/she is. I guarantee you if you do that, most coaches will put much more merit into that extra effort and character you showed than the fact that you fell over.
Good luck to everyone!
Keep your skates sharp, skate hard, and keep your head up. See you around the rinks.