With the the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s difficult to know how tryouts will look this year. There will likely be different restrictions depending on your state organizations. Social distancing will likely be enforced and parents may be encouraged to stay in their cars during the process.
Generally, expect skill based drills to be emphasized as one v. one’s and scrimmages may not be permitted. Most clubs will publish guidelines for what to expect, but since this is a fluid situation, these guidelines may change up until the tryouts begin. Stay informed. This will be a very difficult season for club selection. Be patient and be prepared!
If your child is playing recreational soccer, you don’t need to worry about tryouts. There may be a combine-type event at which your child will demonstrate his or her proficiency at basic skills. But, that is usually designed to divide the kids into fairly evenly balanced teams. On the other hand, if you’ve opted to take your child over to competitive / club soccer, prepare for tryouts! Here are some tryout tips to get you through.
- Know the proper dates and times for your age group
- “Kick Arounds” and “Open Sessions” are tryouts!
- Dress appropriately
- Bring proper equipment
- Be prepared for soccer drills, one v. one’s and scrimmages
- Scrimmages are the most important part
- Be ready to receive an offer
- Show off!
I say it every year — I hate tryouts. I hate them as a coach, and I hate them as a parent. They are the absolute worst part of soccer, in my opinion. Having to tell a child that they don’t fit the team is brutal. Hearing that same news as a parent is even worse. But, tryouts are a necessary evil in the competitive soccer world. Knowing what to expect and being prepared can ease the pain — at least a little.
Dates and Times
First, determine the dates and times for tryouts. State soccer organizations usually dictate when tryouts can be held every year. Certain days / weekends are typically specified. To get more specific information, take a look at club websites. Make sure you are looking at the correct age group. Age groups used to be based on school year, but U.S. Soccer changed to birth year a few years ago, so it’s very easy now. I actually hated the change to birth year when it was made, and I still hate it today, but that is the subject of another post. You will likely want your child to tryout for more than one club / team, so I would recommend working out a schedule. An electronic or a handwritten calendar will do.
Make sure you prioritize your top choices. You will likely have conflicts. And, even if you don’t have conflicts, tryouts are mentally and physically exhausting. Your child can’t give his/her all for 5 tryout sessions in a row.
Tryouts usually last between 1 and 3 days (Friday – Sunday). Most clubs will say that you don’t have to go to every tryout session, but make sure you go to the first day of your first team choice. In other words, don’t skip a Friday tryout session with the intention of going on Saturday. Coaches will start filling their teams as soon as they can; and you don’t want to miss out because you waited too long.
Tryouts before Tryouts
“Kick-arounds” are tryouts! Coaches may be prohibited from officially recruiting prior to the tryout window, so many clubs will schedule what they call “kick-arounds” prior to the official window. Even though the coach can’t talk to you about the team or the club, I assure you that they’re watching and trying to get a leg up on their competition. Make sure your child attends these kick-arounds, if possible.
“Camps” are tryouts! Another tactic that clubs use to get an advantage on their competition is “camps”. The club can hold a camp prior to the tryout window. Again, they may not be able to officially recruit, but they will be paying attention. Take advantage of these camps, if you can.
Tips on What to Wear
As for what to wear, make sure your child is dressed appropriately for the weather. Most tryouts are late spring, so soccer shorts and a short sleeve t-shirt will likely be ideal. Many clubs will put players in pinnies with numbers to keep track of who they are looking at, so the color of t-shirt probably won’t matter. That said, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to use a flashy t-shirt to make your child stand out. From a coaches perspective, if someone has on a bright pink t-shirt for instance, he or she is easy to remember.
Make sure your child has soccer cleats and shinguards. If you don’t have cleats, general athletic shoes will work in a pinch. Shinguards are a must. By the way, shinguards go under socks. They make really pretty shinguards these days, but, for safety reasons, they should be completely covered by long soccer/athletic socks, if possible.
Additional Things to Bring
Bring water! Proper hydration is essential for peak performance. In fact, make sure your child is well hydrated prior to the tryout session. Starting the day before is ideal, but if that’s not possible, just start as early as you can.
Along those same lines, if it’s hot, bring a cooling towel. Regulating body temperature may be as important as (or more than) hydration. Keep your child as cool as possible. If there is any shade available, encourage taking water breaks there. Avoid the scorching sun as much as possible.
Finally, bring a soccer ball. Some of the tryout activities may require a ball for each player. Here are the recommended sizes: size 3 for ages 7 and under; size 4 for ages 8 to 12; and size 5 for ages 13 and over.
Soccer Tryout Activities
Every tryout will likely be a little different, but there are several types of activities your child should be prepared for: soccer drills, one v. one’s and scrimmages. Each activity will be designed to identify a piece of the puzzle that makes up your soccer player.
Soccer drills like dribbling through cones or simple passing and receiving might be used to assess the basic attributes your child possesses. Coaches will use these drills to analyze technique and separate players into broad categories. Truthfully, other than general athleticism, strength, speed and exposure to the game of soccer, not much can be learned with soccer drills. However, the benefit of soccer drills at tryouts is the quick and dirty identification of upper level and lower level players. Your child should practice basic soccer technique prior to tryouts to avoid being categorized as a lower level player in case the tryouts involve soccer drills.
One v. one’s allow the further evaluation of soccer skill and competitiveness. Many players can perform soccer drills at a high level, but when put under pressure, are not able to translate that technique into practical skill. In fact, that’s often how coaches define skill — technique under pressure. Your child should be ready to be put in pressure situations. Ideally, you should practice one v. one’s with defensive pressure before tryouts. But, if that’s not possible, you should find a way to add pressure to basic practice sessions. Some creative ways that don’t require a second player are to add time limits to exercises or even distractions like loud music to encourage focus.
The Most Important Part — Scrimmages
Finally, most tryouts will involve scrimmages. In fact, I’ve been to several tryouts that used scrimmages as the only evaluation tool. Tryouts are never as long as the evaluators would like, and you can learn the most about a player in the shortest amount of time with scrimmages. Skill can be assessed along with tactical and spatial awareness. From a player’s perspective, however, there are several dangers to scrimmages. Being placed on a “bad” team can make an individual player look bad. Further, even if your child is on a good team, they might not get the ball enough to showcase their abilities.
I recall watching a former player of mine at a tryout get overlooked in favor of lesser players because she simply didn’t get the ball enough. She got placed at a forward position, and her team was not able to provide her the service she would need as a forward to be successful. I would suggest encouraging your child to play as a center midfielder in a tryout situation no matter what position they play normally. As a center midfielder, he or she can be a part of the action no matter how good or bad the team is. Even if your child isn’t comfortable at that position, he or she will be front and center in the coach’s mind as opposed to the child that never touches the ball. If your child ultimately wants to play a different position, you can work that out after the team is made.
What about Offers?
Coaches will usually start giving out offers at the beginning of the first tryout session (or before!). In fact, your desired coach may have scouted potential players before tryouts, so as soon as the tryout window begins, those players may get offers immediately. Just because there are three tryout sessions scheduled doesn’t mean that your coach will wait until the end of the third session to decide who should be on his or her team.
If you get an offer from your first choice, feel free to accept immediately. That said, it might be a good idea to wait until you get an idea of how the team is rounding out. If the coach is having trouble filling out his or her team, it might not be as good a situation as you initially thought. If you get an offer from your second or third choice, feel free to hold out for your first choice — just make sure you clarify how long the coach / club will keep the offer open.
Do not put all of your eggs in one basket. Ideally, your child will get an offer from their first choice team at the beginning of the first tryout session, but that might not happen. Always have a back up plan with a second team / club. Also, just because you don’t get an offer at the first session doesn’t mean you won’t get one at a later session, so don’t give up!
Show Off! It’s OK!
My last piece of advice is to show off. Coaches are looking for anything that will allow them to differentiate between players. Flashy play helps! The way I put it to my children is “show off, but don’t be selfish.” Play good soccer, but do it with flair!
Good Luck with Your Soccer Tryout
Soccer tryouts are extremely stressful for both players and parents. Knowing what to expect and using these tips can be the difference between making the desired team and disappointment. Regardless of the outcome, it’s important to stay positive and make the most of whatever situation your child ends up in. Good luck at tryouts!