So, now you have taken the time to properly plan out your tryout sessions, and now find yourself with an evaluation sheet in hand. Many coaches get overwhelmed during this process – after all, there is a lot to watch. Assuming you’re breaking your tryout into three distinct drill categories – skill, competitive, scrimmage – we will take a look at what skills and subtleties to watch for in each of these three areas.
Skill Drills: In order to properly run skill drills, you need a good comprehension of the talent level you’re working with. At the younger and/or lower caliber levels, your skills should focus on the basics: forward skating, backward skating, cross overs, stopping, basic puck handling, basic shooting, and basic passing. The older and/or higher caliber the group, the more you should implement drills to force the performance of skills at a higher pace. Evaluators should watch for notable aspects (both good and bad) of each player’s ability in the following categories: skating, shooting, passing, puck handling. Each of these skills should be broken down into the appropriate drills for the level. For example, to work on cross-overs (skating), you could break it down as follows:
Beginner Groups: Basic cross-overs around the circles – watch for basic technique and balance
Intermediate Groups: Cross-overs around the tops & bottoms of the circles only (not all the way around) – watch for basic technique, balance, speed, and ability to transition between cross-over directions.
Advanced Groups: Have players skate down the ice performing one cross-over to the right, then one cross-over to the left (repeat the length of the ice) – watch for technique, speed, transition between directions, ability to maintain balance/strong body position, and generation of power with each push.
The most important skill to watch for during these drills is skating. If a player can skate well, the rest of the game gets a lot easier. Skating affects every aspect of the game – from a foot race to a loose puck, to maintaining balance in front of an opposing team’s net. Players who skate efficiently are often times easier to work with when it comes time for positioning. While evaluating skating abilities, be sure to include drills that force players to change directions and move laterally. It doesn’t do any good to be the fastest skater from end-to-end if you aren’t able to turn or change directions while maintaining your momentum.
Competitive Drills: During competitive drills is where you look for your work-horses. Small area games and in-tight competitive drills often expose strengths and weaknesses quicker than any other types of drills since the players have no place to hide or blend in. One of my favorite drills to run during tryouts is the Corner Battles drill. This simple one-on-one drill shows me right away who is willing to mix it up in the corners. I also recommend running 1 on 1 drills to allow you to isolate both forwards and defensemen. The 1 on 1 Full Ice drill is one of the oldest, most basic 1 on 1 drills there is – but it works great. You get to see how the defensemen handle the puck, shoot, set their gap, and handle the rush. You also get to see if your forwards are willing to get in front of the net, have the necessary speed, have creativity, and the desire to fight through a check. Coaches shouldn’t be afraid to adjust the lines to get a desired matchup on rushes or battle drills. It’s a tryout, and you’re looking to see the level each player can compete at.
Scrimmage Time: This is an evaluator’s time to see if the notes on a player thus far transfer into game-scenarios. It’s also the time to find out which players have the much-coveted “hockey sense.” Hockey sense is (simply put) the ability to see the ice, properly anticipate plays, and react accordingly. This portion of the tryouts often makes decisions for coaches even more difficult. Many times, you can run into a player who has a great core set of skills, but isn’t able to translate them into game scenarios. You may also run into the opposite – a player with a weak core set of skills, but seems to get the job done consistently. Which player you give preference to when choosing your team is your own personal decision. In my opinion, I would rather take a player who can perform during a game with a weaker core set of skills than one who has good skills but no game-time performance – with one HUGE caveat: the player MUST have a strong skating ability.
A couple final thoughts on the tryout process…
If you have multiple people evaluating, don’t be surprised if you have differing opinions on players. Different people look for different things while they’re evaluating. I always recommend having neutral hockey-knowledgable evaluators assist in picking your team. By neutral, I simply mean they do not have a child on the ice being evaluated, and have not coached the majority of the players in the past. Ideally, you get someone who has no connection with any of the players on the ice. This removes a level of emotion from decisions.
Finally, accept the fact that you most likely will not please everybody. Don’t give in to threats of “if my kid doesn’t make the top team, we’re taking him/her somewhere else.” To those situations, my typical response is “do what you have to do.” While it may come off as terse, I firmly believe coaches need to evaluate as fairly and impartially as possible. Coaches will often be put in tough personal and political situations during tryouts. Personally, I’ve had to cut board member’s players, cut friend’s players, and have had people stop talking to me because of my decisions. Make your decisions with integrity and stick to your guns.
Good luck to all the players and coaches going through the tryout process!