The Tryout Process

Why is it important for a youth sports organization to have a tryout process?

A legitimate tryout process lends credibility to a youth sports organization.  The tryout process is one of the things that attracts players to come back year after year.  If players and parents see evidence of a logical and fair process for player selection and team placement, then they are left with a feeling that they can control their own destiny by working hard at those things that the organization is looking for.

Considerations for the Tryout Process

In defining a tryout process that best fits your organization’s needs, it is helpful to make a few decisions up front.

  • Will tryouts be blind tryouts or open tryouts?
  • Will evaluations be done by independent evaluators or by the coaches who will be coaching the team the players are trying out for?
  • What kind of data would you like to use as a basis for your selections ?
  • In what timeframe do you want to notify the players of the outcome of the selection process?

Blind vs. Open Tryouts

In blind tryouts, players are identified by, and their scores associated with, a unique jersey number.  The evaluators are focused on the jersey number and not on the identity of the player performing a task.  Using unique identifying numbers instead of player names helps remove some of the bias (intended or unintended) that might be accompanied by an evaluator who is already familiar with a player’s abilities.

Conducting blind tryouts requires

  1. the availability of numbered jerseys that can be distributed to the players either as they arrive at tryouts or beforehand and
  2. keeping track of which player received which jersey number (and possibly jersey color) so that, ultimately, results can be associated with a player’s name.

Independent vs. Directly-Involved Evaluators

From the perspective of fairness, it is best to use evaluators who are not involved with the team for which the players are trying out.  Third party evaluators who are not even associated with the organization provide the most fair assessments.  In many cases it will cost the organization money to hire third party evaluators.  If budget constraints prevent the use of third party evaluators, then the next best alternative would be to ask coaches from the organization to do the evaluations who have no direct involvement with the team.  Finally, many coaches will need to be directly involved in the selection process as they feel selection decisions are theirs, and only theirs, to make.

Decision Basis

The skills and behaviors that the Program desires for the ideal player form the basis of the data that will need to be collected during tryouts and, possibly, Coach’s Surveys if those are utilized.  Creating an agenda for tryouts is essential for successful data collection.  The agenda includes each of the tasks that the players will be asked to do along with what skills will be measured while those tasks are being performed.  One or more evaluators should be assigned to each task.

A scoring range will need to be assigned to each skill being measured.  The same scoring range can be used for each skill (i.e., 6 = best, 1 = worst).  But there may be situations that require different scoring ranges.  For example, if the speed of a player’s movement is being measured along with their ability to receive a pass, then the scoring ranges for each skill might be as follows:

  • Speed:  0 = best, 100 = worst
  • Pass Receiving:  6 = best, 1 = worst

Using a scoring range that has no center value forces the evaluator to choose a score other than “average”.  For example, a range of 5 to 1 allows the evaluator to choose “3” which falls directly in the middle of the range.  But a range of 6 to 1 has no “middle”.  A “4” indicates above average performance while a “3” indicates below average.

Evaluators may push for a more granular score range – like the ability to enter “3.5”.  To keep things simple, instead of using decimals, simply increase the scoring range.  A scoring range from 6 to 1 that allows a single decimal place is equivalent to a range from 12 to 1 that uses only whole numbers.

Players can be divided into groups.  Each group of players rotates from one task/evaluator to the next.  That lends another level of fairness to the process since the same evaluator(s) rate the same skill(s).  Any biases that they might have in interpreting players’ abilities will be applied equally to all players.

It may be advantageous to supplement tryout data with past history.  For example, coaches can submit via a Coach’s Survey player evaluations for their teams from the prior season.  Player rankings from the Coach’s Surveys can be incorporated with the tryout data to provide more information upon which to make placement decisions.  This proves to be especially helpful in situations where the tryout data for two or more players turns out to be similar.

Notification Timeframe

How and when would you like to notify the candidates of the outcome of the tryouts?  Notification could come as quickly as a short timeframe after the completion of tryouts to a few days, weeks, or months afterwards.  If you would like to have the Directors of the Program make the initial decisions, have those decisions reviewed by head coaches and then by all coaches, then more time will be required prior to notification.

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