Each year in Canada close to 3,500 minor hockey associations undertake the task of placing players on teams. The ultimate goal of this process is to provide players with the best possible experience in an environment where they can grow as hockey players and young people.
For many minor hockey executives, evaluators, coaches, parents and players this can be a tension filled, strenuous and frustrating experience. Tryouts are a necessary evil.
Player evaluation and placement, like player development, is a process - effective management of the process will make a young players experience in hockey a more positive one.
Coaches need to have an eye for what players will be later in the year as they are always growing. Coming into tryouts, a coach will have an idea of the type of player they want to put on the ice.
“I think any coach likes what they like. When I go to watch a game or have a tryout, I have a soft spot for players who are what I call ‘busy,’” said David Manning, head coach at St. Andrews College in Newmarket. “They are always involved and engaged in the game and they have that ability to each and every shift do something positive.”
Players who can block a shot or make a play for a teammate are the ones that catch Manning’s eye. If it was up to him, tryouts would last for a few weeks instead of a few days. Most programs have just a few practices to try out for a team.
“I’ve been involved in tryouts in our area in the minor hockey association where there’s 80 kids on the ice for one skate. Ideally, I’d say you break that up into three separate skates and let the kids show themselves a little bit more over the course of two to three skates. When you have 80 kids, it’s very difficult as a coach to let kids show what they have with 80 kids out there.”
What kind of criteria should coaches use when selecting players? Perhaps based on an organizational style or a coaching philosophy, coaches may opt to choose certain types of players over others. Whatever it is, it’s important to let the players at the tryout know what you’re looking for.
The best way to properly evaluate players, according to Manning, is to have some coaches on the ice while the others evaluate from the stands. Each viewpoint provides a unique perspective and can offer a different glimpse of what a player has to offer. If possible, coaches should tape practices to evaluate them from a different angle and see things they didn’t at first.
Manning likes to be on the ice to see how the kids interact socially.
“You get a lot of the smaller nuanced things that happen like how someone is paying attention at the back of the line of a drill and they’re interacting or you see smiles on their face when they’re performing things or they struggle with things and how they put their head down and go back to work.”
Regardless of the result of the tryout, the most important thing is that players leave with a sense that they were properly evaluated.
“Each player should come away from the tryout feeling, and the parents should feel the same thing, that the coach had the good handle on me as a player. They may not like what the coach may have to say, but they should have enough information to say ‘I’m getting feedback.’”