It’s that time of year again. The snow is melted, the hockey season is winding down and tryouts are coming. It’s a stressful time for players, parents and coaches. Nobody can take away the stress completely, but being prepared makes the experience much more enjoyable. With that in mind, here are a few tips for tryouts.
What Do Coaches Look For?
Most importantly, skating. Everything you do on the ice revolves around your ability to skate. Your ability to get where you need to be in a timely fashion is paramount. Good skaters are naturally first to pucks, have better body position and subsequently win battles and create opportunities.
Secondary skills like puck handling, shooting and passing are important, but none of these come into play if you are not a strong skater.
Have you ever noticed those players that always seem to have the puck find them? They are in the right position, make plays to teammates and never seem to be out of the play. Hockey sense (it’s really just spatial awareness) is challenging to teach, but invaluable. Do you just chase the puck around the ice like a dog after his tail or do you make strong decisions putting yourself where the puck will be?
A strong skater with good hockey sense is a force to be reckoned with. To improve your hockey sense watch a game, but focus on one player. As they move around the rink ask yourself why they moved into those positions, especially when they didn’t have the puck. When you can answer those questions the next part of the process is to emulate those same decisions in your game.
Show up early and find a good spot in the dressing room. Coaches love players who are early. Showing up late is a distraction to both you and your teammates. Our team has a rule, if you are 10 minutes early you are on time. If you are on time you are late.
Check your equipment before you leave the house. Do you have everything? Are your skates sharpened? Is your stick taped? If you can’t show up to a tryout prepared to give your best then how can a coach expect you do that during the season?
“We are a team of character.” is one of the lines our teams recite before every game. Do you congratulate other players on great plays? Do you push yourself to improve every time through a drill? How do you react to making mistakes? Do you smile and try even harder or do you bang your stick on the ice and put your head down? Attitude is contagious. Coaches don’t want players who sulk or quit.
Are you the tide? Do you lift up everyone around you? Players can lead in many ways, but the common denominator is that they make everyone around them better. That may be through raising their spirits, working hard or just simply talking to them. Everyone is nervous, that’s natural. The player that can help others be better is irreplaceable on a team.
Did you kill a drill because you weren’t paying attention or worse, goofing off? Don’t be the player who was 5th or 6th in line and did the drill incorrectly after everyone ahead of them did it properly. That’s lack of focus. To a coach it simply shows that you don’t care. Focus on the drills and give yourself the best chance to succeed.
If you don’t understand something, ask a question. Coaches love players who want to learn. It shows that you want to get it right and that you care.
Front of the Line:
Do you understand the drill? Get to the front of the line. There is no question in a coach’s mind that the player at the front of the line wants to be there. It shows confidence and leadership.
Don’t compare yourself to other players. Hockey is a team sport. There are roles to be filled. Just because you aren’t the top scorer doesn’t mean that you aren’t valuable. Focus on what you do best. Believe in yourself. The coach wants you to be you, not somebody else.
Happy players always perform better than unhappy ones. Studies have even shown that happy athletes make better decisions and make them up to 300X faster than unhappy ones. If you want the best chance to make the team then put a smile on your face!
If you have questions, ask. It’s important that parents and players understand the coach’s philosophy, plans for the year and are comfortable with her or his demeanor. Don’t ask questions in the 60 minutes before a tryout starts. The coach has other things to focus on. If possible, ask once the tryout has ended when the coach will have more time to give you full answers.
Talk to the coach in the days prior to the tryout. Many coaches are happy to explain their expectations, explain drills, etc. prior to the tryouts.
Support, Don’t Critique:
Your job is to support your child, regardless of how they did in the tryout. Refrain from critiquing them and stick to being positive. A positive word or tap on the back can go a long way to easing their nerves and improving their performance.
Your child wants to make the team, but they also want to please you. Don’t equate being cut from a team with disappointing you. Some of the best players to ever play the game were cut from teams (including Wayne Gretzky).
Prepare Your Child:
Did they get a good night’s sleep? Are they eating healthy foods? Are they on time for the tryout? These are all things that are out of their control. As the parent you need to take responsibility for these aspects of their performance.
Perhaps more importantly, have you prepared them for the chance that they may not make the team? When doors close new ones always open. Look on the positive side of the situation no matter what happens.
Last, but not least a note for coaches.
No good coach likes cutting a child. It’s a soul devouring process that keeps us up at night (in my case for weeks ahead of tryouts). Remember why you are there and what the mandate from your organization is. Your job is to meet that mandate (winning, development, etc.) to the best of your ability and your team choice is part of that process. You aren’t the “bad guy”. You just deliver the bad news.
Here is a quote that has always helped me through tryouts.
“If you want to make everyone happy, don’t be a leader – sell ice cream.” – Steve Jobs
Good luck at tryouts. Have fun and enjoy the process. Your minor hockey career will be over too soon, so enjoy the journey.
Questions? Comments? Send them my way.
See you at the rink,