Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Tryouts - Part II of the Story

In part II of the tryout story I thought I would pass on a post from Simon Teather that was originally made on the Phoenix website. I think it captures many good points from both the picker and pickee side.

"I've always had a love/hate relationship with tryouts. They're fun because they represent great opportunity for either me or the team, and of course the chance to get outside and play. They suck because it usually rains for at least one (and the wet doesn't suit my game at all) and because someone always has the bright idea to run some kind of fitness test. I don't like the fitness tests because they hurt, sometimes a lot.

As someone who's tried out many times, and probably picked teams at least as frequently, I figure I'll share some insight into what I've learned of the process.

First of all everyone involved is an amateur. Very few of the people picking the teams have ever done so in any sport other than ultimate, and have never participated outside of ultimate or maybe a high school team. Every now and then you'll have a former university athlete (or in one rare instance that I know of even a coach). Let's just say that whatever best practices are out there, the odds of the selection committee knowing them never mind having the resources to apply them are poor.

This isn't meant to criticise anyone; it's just the way it is. As I've already mentioned, I've run tryouts many times and learnt something about the process each time. I've also tried out many times and learnt something else (sometimes something contradictory) each time.

Among the things that I've learned as someone running tryouts:

-Be prepared to deal with unhappy, disappointed people. If you're not prepared to do this, get someone else to pick the team. This is not a process that will make you any friends. If you're in it to help your friends, get out. If you're not in all the way, don't try to keep your nose in it in any official capacity such as an "advisor" or something similar, just get out. Be in or out, period.

-You'll make a mistake. You'll cut someone you shouldn't have or take someone you shouldn't have. Admit it, figure out why you did it, and move on.

-Do as much research as possible early. You won't have tape to watch (something ultimate really needs to get) either of the tryouts or of historical performances. That means that if you don't get a good look at someone in tryouts you're stuck debating whether or not to cut them based on very little information. Take notes.

-If someone has a history of being a poor player, their tryout performance doesn't matter. This is a tough one, because I've been against this principle for most of my career. However, in my experience a few good hours simply can't override a season or two of bad. If you allow it to, you're probably setting your team up for another season of bad from that player. Send them down to the 'B' or 'C' team to develop. If they show they're good there, then take them next season. I can count on one hand the number of players I've seen go from poor to good over the course of one off-season. I'm pretty sure I'd need all my digits to count the number of people taken on surprisingly good tryouts who didn't pan out.

-Be organised. Figure out what your team legitimately needs. Even though every spot on your team should be 'open', realistically you probably know that about three-quarters of your roster is a lock. That means that you need to figure out what you need from the remaining members. If for some reason you have a whole lot more talent trying out than you anticipated, you can alter your plan (but let's face it, for the most part we know who's in Ottawa and what they can do).

-Be organised. If you know what you're looking for out of the last roster spots, pick drills and arrange scrimmage situations to test for those things. Keep tryouts moving. It should all be scheduled, with short water breaks to allow you to move cones and explain the next drill/pick teams. Nothing makes you look dumber than having to confer about what you're going to do next while everyone stands around. Remember, people are paying to be there, make it worth their while.

-Use lots of drills early in the process. Use lots of scrimmages later. Early on drills allow you to weed out those who are slow and not fundamentally sound. Early scrimmages don't really do anything other than frustrate the good players and allow bad players to hide against other bad players. Drills don't test field sense and vision though, and that's going to be one bigger factors in determining whether or not someone can play competitively. So late scrimmages when the talent level is more even is critical to determining who can actually play, as opposed to run a drill well.

-Set aside one spot to develop your best prospect. Any more than that and you're lowering the level of your practices. If you don't try to develop your best prospects yourself though, you're risking stunting their growth with the weaker coaching and practice level available on the 'B' team. Expect that they won't contribute in their first season and let them know that. They may prefer to go the 'B' team and actually get to play in tournaments.

And from the perspective of someone trying out there a few key things to remember.

Be recognised:

-If you're not well known, ask good questions and ask for feedback from the committee. Don't do this during the tryout - that's just annoying. Do ask before and/or after the tryout or by email. This will help the selection committee recognise you later on. Feel free to do it if you are known too, it's just more important if you've never played competitively before.

-A lot of people equate a conservative game with being invisible. That can certainly be the case, but you really can't afford to worry about it. You should always play to your strengths and let that determine everything else. If at the end of the process you feel you played well and you still didn't make it, then find out if it was that you just aren't good enough, if they don't value your strengths, or if it was for some other reason. Most importantly find out what you need to improve to make it the next year. Believe me, you're better off doing what you do best than doing something more visible (like say hucking) poorly.

It's personal:

-You always have an opponent, both on the field and in drills. Your goal for as long as they're lined up against you should be to humiliate them. Not by spiking the disc or talking trash since that just makes you a jerk, but by completely outplaying them. There's no half way, either you make yourself look bad by letting them beat you or you make yourself look good by dominating them. If you don't have it in you to rip out their heart (figuratively speaking of course), then you're trying out for fun, not to make Phoenix.

-Once it's over, it's over. We're all trying out as Ottawa ultimate players, so between points and drills we're teammates. Like any good teammate be supportive and helpful.

Know it:

-Confidence is key anytime you're on the field, not just tryouts. That's one of the reasons it's so important to focus on what you do well, not what you think someone else will value. Playing in your own comfort zone will allow you to be the best player you can be now. If that player's not good enough than you'll need to expand your comfort zone, but that happens later. For now do what you do best, and do it knowing you're good at it. It helps immensely.

Deal with your expectations:

-If you're a veteran of the top team, all that means is that you have jersey. That's it. It entitles you to nothing. If you're going in expecting that you have a roster spot waiting for you, I hope (for the team's sake and because I hate that kind of attitude) that they cut you. Preferably in the first round of cuts.

-You might not make it. It happens. If you don't, it's probably not because the committee made a mistake (although it happens, odds are you weren't the mistake) or that they're a bunch of jerks. It's probably that you aren't good enough. It's only happened a couple of times that I've been on a committee that's said "We don't want that person because they're disagreeable". Oddly enough, those people never seem to ask why they got cut. Almost all the people who got cut one year and made it the next made the effort to find out why it was felt they weren't good enough, and they improved on it the next year. "

Pictured Above: More from Michigan Sectionals of a Lowell Heppner throw (courtesy of Mark Kowgier).