From Tryouts to "Training" pt. 2

To continue the discussion from part 1...

In addition to seeing how players react to different input from me, I want to see how they react without me standing over them. The way I gauged this was teaching the group more directly about the type of movement I wanted to see from them supporting in the 4v0 rondo. I wanted to see good timing, and quick steps to support. They player at the top of the video in the below clip is the best example of what I was looking for:

I can;t expect the players to do it perfectly and with the required intensity right away, but once I've helped them understand what I want, the expectations are raised. I used this as an opportunity to gauge both their work habits, and gain a (very small) glimpse into their tactical awareness. Some players would work very hard after I demonstrated or gave them extra coaching, and would then slack off as soon as I wasn't standing right next to them. Others were working hard whether I was standing right next to them, or on the far side of the area. If a player is only working best when the coach is standing right next to them, that is a big red flag for me. In a typical training environment, I won't be able to babysit each kid and coax the best out of them during every single minute. 

The 4v1 rondos, gave me a chance to see how the players put together the passing, receiving, and movement aspects of 4v0 under pressure. As I mentioned above, knowing where and when to move in even a simple 4v1 rondo can prove challenging for players of all ages.  A player only has to process whether they should move left or right, and when, while only being pressured by a single defender. Some instantly understood the transfer from 4v0, and some needed extra guidance. The players that understood where and when to move to support their teammates consistently found more time on the ball than those who did. And in the 4v1 rondo, the above mentioned point about work rate could be combined with this tactical understanding of movement. The players who possessed both traits would consistently offer themselves in the correct position and correct moment, whether or not they received the ball.

While it is context dependent, if a player couldn't put together a good performance in the 4v0 and 4v1 rondos in our 20 minute session, it was a major red flag for me. The players I'm working with are going to be expected to compete for spots in the Earthquake Academy within the next year or so. And while there is a lot of coaching and learning that can happen in these two exercises, they are fairly simple. Additionally, I have a good amount of experience and success teaching these to players from 6 year olds new to the game to my men's league teammates, so I know that I'm competent at getting my ideas across. This manner of conducting tryouts is essentially a small slice of a typical practice I would run, and in my experience, can help identify which players will and won't be a good fit in my team.

From Tryouts to "Training"pt. 1

While my teams are still in the process of trying out, it is easiest to identify the extreme cases on either end: those at the top end of the talent spectrum, and those at the bottom. In my experience, once you've identified those players, you should place them aside. Literally, you can do this by placing them in their own groups so you can focus on diving deeper into perhaps the middle 60% or so. If you wish to take a less direct method, you can make notes on which players require little to no more observation, and instead focus your energy on players on the fringes of making the team.

I usually begin tryouts in a very hands-off manner, meaning little to no coaching beyond explaining a drill. I prefer to see what a player's natural tendencies are. How risky their decisions are, their reactions at defensive transitions, etc. In this stage especially, the edge cases will stand out pretty quickly. To help separate the remaining players however, I've found it useful to see how they react to being coached.

To give a real world example, I ran a 3four3 style 4v0 and 4v1 rondo at my most recent tryout. The main things I wanted from the players were receiving passes across their body, hard passes played to the correct foot, and proper movement to offer a passing angle. Very few players understood instantly after the example, and most needed extra coaching.

In the 4v0, it's black and white which foot the players should be using to receive, and also fairly obvious to the players what a good pass looks like. The players with quality technical ability managed this with few problems. The way I chose to 'test' was calling them out as either individuals or groups to see how they respond. Some players received praise, some received criticism, some received encouragement, and some received a little extra individual coaching. It's important to see how different players respond to each of these. If a player doesn't respond positively to criticism or individual coaching, then they will not be a very good fit in my coaching environment. Additionally, they players who responded to praise by relaxing and dropping their level will not fit into the culture I want to establish either.

I will continue this post tomorrow in part 2.

Gathering Intel

Tryouts for my new teams are coming up soon, but as I'm the pre-academy coach, I've been attending the academy tryouts for the last several weeks. My main reasons for doing this is to gain a better understanding of the player pool for the Earthquakes. While I've watched a few DA games at the U12 age group, it's important I have a more intimate knowledge of the players in and around the Quakes program. In addition to doing my own homework, it's been valuable for me to speak with other coaches in the program, especially the U12 DA coach, to learn their perspective on the players. Which players they believe are a LOCK for the academy team, and why, has been a constant question at each tryout.

One major take away I've had from the tryouts so far is that even at the academy level, a huge player deficiency I saw was their tactical understanding. This was most obvious after seeing kids doing insane tricks in a 1v1 drill, then being completely clueless as to how to move in a 9v9 scrimmage. One players beat his man every time in the 1v1s, including once with a really smooth rainbow. In the scrimmage playing as a winger however, not once did I see him receive the ball and be able to turn. This didn't happen only on the offensive side of the ball though. Very few players were scanning the field on defense to identify the biggest danger either. Being able to identify and train players tactically remains, in my opinion, a valuable commodity in the American soccer environment.


This week our club is holding tryouts. Over the years I've conducted tryouts for U10 boys all the way up to high school girls. I always think it's insightful (or at least entertaining!) to see what other coaches do for tryouts.

Today, my session for about twenty U10 and U11 boys (both teams will play 9v9) consisted of 4 exercises:

1. Passing Square and 8v2 Keepaway

Almost all of my sessions start with a rondo of some sort, and the ability to receive and pass is crucial. Additionally, I find it valuable to start with the easiest exercise first. You'd be surprised how many players of all ages and both genders struggle to pass the ball 12 yards under zero pressure. Also, by starting with the easiest exercise first, you can immediately identify the players NOT to watch the rest of the tryout. I've never seen a player that couldn't perform adequately in a passing square exercise go on to tear it up throughout the rest of the tryout. Today the grids were all about 12 yards by 12 yards, and were the same for both exercises.

2. 1v1s Attacking and Defending

I don't do anything too fancy with my 1v1s. Today I used a grid 12 yards wide and about 18 yards long. The attackers start with the ball, and need to dribble in control across the far side of the grid. After winning the ball, the defenders can pass in to a pug goal in either corner of the opposite side of the grid. Players stay as attackers/defenders for about 3 minutes, and then rotate to the other spot. I do this so I can get multiple looks at a particular facet of their game. For example, if a player does a ridiculous move to beat his man the first time, I'd like to get a second look right away to make sure it isn't a fluke. I use this to evaluate a player in all 4 phases of the game, and also to get a small peak into their psychology, and see how they react after winning or losing. It also let's you identify how players stack up physically.

3. 1v1s to Goal

For 1v1s to goal, it's basically a slightly larger grid than before, about 15 yards wide and 22 yards long. It's the same 1v1 drill, but now the attackers score on a goalkeeper. In addition to the uses of the previous 1v1 drill, you know get to see who your goal scorers and goal keepers are. It also forces the goal keepers to contribute with their feet in build up play.

4. Small Goals and Big Goals Scrimmages

The scrimmages were split into 5v5 to four small goals and 6v6 with goalkeepers in regular size goals. Typically I'll try to divide teams into about 3 groups in my head at this point: players for sure making the team, players for sure getting cut, and then the middle. This way, I can focus primarily on the performances of players in the middle, and really zoom in on the details. Sometimes I'll directly split teams down these lines, other times I'll put players from each category in each team. I'll be sure to put players I'm interested in into a role approximating where I see them in my team. For example, there was a player today I see as a center back, and I paired him with my current center back to see if he was a good fit there.