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.

Earning It

I had the parent of a new player on the team send me a text, and ask what their son needs to work on. We've only had a week of training, so it's very early in the season. Nonetheless, this is a hugely positive sign, in my opinion. This is a parent who is involved, and critical (in a good way) of their son.

These parents are my favorite to work with. Their players are not always the best on the team, but they are also pushing them towards the next challenge. My least favorite question from parents is "Why didn't my son/daughter start the last game?" or "Why isn't my kid a starter?" The way this question is phrased usually insinuates they think their kid is already deserving of that spot. They've already written another player off in their head, or assume they know more than you do. The question is, in their mind, a rhetorical one.

The types of questions I love to hear are "What does X need to do to earn more playing time?" In both this question and the above ones, the parents are looking for more playing time. However in the last question, coming with humility and a willingness to work, shows a willingness to submit to the process of improvement. Playing time, and anything worthwhile in life, should be earned.

This is very much something I strive to weave in to the culture of my team. There's this weird idea that takes root in the minds of some that if you ask for something, you deserve it. Playing time, to play a different position, taking free kicks, you name it. Youth sports should be focused on a quality process, not some immediate outcome. This goes for the role of results in the youth game, individual improvement/playing time, style of play, etc. Asking and getting more playing time is not nearly as valuable for the team or the individual as earning it.