Tryout Overview [Part 1]

Spring time marks the end of a long-cold (but exciting) hockey season – and for many, brings with it a set of tryouts.  Older players begin trying out for junior teams, younger players try out for select spring teams, and many Tier I teams hold their tryouts for next season.  Over the past several weeks, I’ve received many emails asking my thoughts on tryouts – how to handle them, what to look for, how to structure the ice times, etc.  Since this topic can get quite lengthy, I decided to break this down into two separate posts (the follow-up coming next week Monday/Tuesday).  In this post, I’ll cover my opinion of how to structure the ice times and choose the right types of drills.  Please keep in mind, this post is geared toward youth players.  I know we have readers who are coaching high-level teams (Junior/College/Professional), but my hunch is they’ve already got a pretty good grasp of how to run their tryouts!

Step 1 – Planning Your Session(s)

The first step to running a successful tryout is the ability to effectively plan the usage of the available ice time.  Knowing whether you’ve got one day, or five days to choose your team will make a huge difference in how you approach your plans.  For argument sake, let’s assume you have three-90 minute sessions at your disposal for tryouts.  Try to find out well ahead of time what your schedule is so you can plan accordingly.  One of the worst things a coach can do is enter the tryout portion of the season unprepared.  This often sets the tone for the rest of the season – plus, you only get one chance to make a first impression!

Step 2 – Include Skill Drills

Before going any further into your plans, you’ve got to understand what age and level you’re coaching and have a solid grasp of just how talented the group you’re working with is.  If you’re looking to select a low-level Mite (Novice in Canada) team, you plan much differently than if you’re working with a Midget AAA team.  A solid rule of thumb is: the younger the groups, the more basic fundamental skill drills you should run during tryouts. Remember, tryout sessions are not the time to be spending a lot of time explaining new drills.  With any group/level, you need to have a solid grasp of what the players are capable of.  For example, if you’re working with a Mite/Novice team, it may be worthwhile to run a simple backwards skating drill.  Often times at the younger ages, players aren’t yet proficient in that particular skill – so it’s best to see that up front.  If you’re working with an older, more advanced team, you should look at performing a high-tempo edgework drill to see which players are able to skate efficiently at top-speeds.

Many times, skill portions of tryouts are overlooked.  Lots of coaches would rather just have the players scrimmage and sit back and watch.  Including skill drills provides two distinct benefits: 1) being able to recognize technical proficiencies and deficiencies in players 2) getting some insight as to how they interact with coaches and approach drills.  If I’m picking a team, I want to know where players are strong and weak, so I can gage the group and have specifics to focus on once the season starts.  I also want to know if a player is going to give me attitude every time I run a skating drill.

Step 3 – Include Competitive Drills

1 on 1 and Small Area Games are great drills to include in tryouts, as you get some insight as to who really wants to work to earn his/her position.  Forcing players to compete against each other in situations other than direct scrimmages allows coaches to isolate players and match-ups much easier.  These drills often times allow coaches to step back more than when running skill drills, and have time to pair particular players against each other.  Keep these drill repetitions short so players can give a high level of energy the entire time.  One great drill for this portion is the Corner Battle drill – it forces players to mix it up in the corners, and can show you a player’s ability to to keep his/her emotions in check.

Step 4 – Include Scrimmage Time

Finally, I do recommend including scrimmage time in each tryout session.  At the end of the day, players have to play the structured game once the season rolls around.  Once you’ve got some insight on their talents and competitive nature, it’s time to see how they fare in game situations.  As with the competitive drills, coaches should mix and match groups to see specific players compete against each other.  For example, if you’ve narrowed your list down to two defensemen you’re watching, and you notice both those players are going out against forward lines that will not make your team, it doesn’t make any sense to keep the status quo.  Get those players out against other players who you’ve already selected and see if they rise to the challenge.

I believe the scrimmage portions of tryouts should be “stepped” – meaning the scrimmage portions increase in length as the tryout process goes on.  If you have three sessions, perhaps the first session has 60 minutes of skills/competitive drills and 30 minutes of scrimmage – then the second session has 45 minutes of skills/competitive drills and 45 minutes of scrimmage – finally, the third session could have 30 minutes of competitive drills and 60 minutes of scrimmage.

Below I’ve included the tryout practice plans I used for the 2009-10 season.  This is not by any means a definitive guide as to what you should run, but I wanted to include it as a reference.  We had three-90 minute tryout sessions and followed the “stepped” format outlined above.

Download 2009-10 Tryout Example

Stay tuned next week for Tryout Overview [Part 2] – which will focus on what to look for in each of the portions of your tryout sessions.

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