Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Selecting Your Team: Picking from the Cards You are Dealt

"It's not about the cards you're dealt, but how you play the hand." - Randy Pausch

Try-outs can be a very trying time on both Coaches and the young people that are desiring to be a member of a team. The Coaches want to be as fair as possible while the young men and women that are trying out want to prove they belong on the team. This is a very vulnerable time for both groups.While I believe every try-out situation is different and each Coach will have their own methods and drills I want to share with you the process we use and its benefits to our program.

#1 Blended-Family
As a Coach, it is very important that during tryouts you don't treat the participants like a blended family. There shouldn't be a feel of my kids and the new kids. If you have returning starters or a lot of returning players group them together while mixing in a few players that their skill level is comparable. If the divide is too great then we will have each group include a returning player along with players we are needing to evaluate deeper. One of the most important factors is that every kid leaves feeling they had a fair chance. To ensure that, you have to give every kid a chance.

We use groups as a way to evaluate skill. UNLESS YOU ARE TRYING TO REPLACE YOUR RETURNING POINT GUARD, DO NOT GROUP AN INCOMING SOPHOMORE WITH HIM. There is nothing fair about that. If your returning starters don't dominate that situation then you have bigger problems than try-outs. We blend players of similar skill and also players of the same position. This is a great way to look at your younger returners with new players. This also ensures the fairness that you are trying to ensure.

We do drills that focus on skill, to see if  they are coachable and  watch their composure. By the time we do any team activity we have already made the selections. Some Coaches may want to play 5 on 5 and make your selection then. If you've ever been to a showcase or a "Top 25" camp then you know that the assist and team defense are absent at those events. 5 on 5 doesn't tell you who is a good player.  Here are the questions we ask:
Would I want this player as a teammate?
Would I want to coach this player?
How does this player impact our program and its culture?

#2 Sophomores Stay
If you are lucky enough to have a Sophomore basketball team or period use it correctly. If you don't have one, you need to fight for it because it is a great thing for your program. The Sophomore season is awkward enough for some players. With our setup we are able to keep some players that we would normally have to let go because of numbers. The goal is to have a productive practice where every player improves each day. That is impossible with 30 kids in one period with 2 coaches.

Our goal for each Sophomore is to improve. That is a developmental year for most. Last season, 4 of our top 8 were Sophomores. This allowed us to keep more Sophomores for our sophomore team.

We will keep a Sophomore over a Senior from a numbers standpoint. That rubs some folks the wrong way but here is the logic behind it. What if? I'm an example of what can happen in the sophomore season. I grew from 5'10 to 6'3" during the season. In our team picture at the beginning of the year I was back row on the end. Our team picture in the state finals I was in the middle. In our idea setting, Our program looks like this:

Varsity - Top 12-15 players, regardless of class
Junior Varsity - 12 players, Sophomores and Juniors
Sophomores - 15-20

#3 Respect
Honestly, I don't know what the right way to let a kid know he's be cut is. I've done everything from:
Post numbers
Post names
Call names out of those that made it
Call names out of those that didn't

It's a hard process. Feelings are going to be hurt. Dreams shattered. The most important aspect in this process is respect. With our last try-outs we called out the names of players that had made the team. The instructions were this:
1) Sit quietly
2) Listen
3) Do not show any emotion, positive or negative
4) After all the names are called you are free to go.

You hope as a Coach that you've taught your returning players how to win and lose with dignity and that the only outburst would be from a new player. Afterwards be available for questions. Thank everyone for giving their effort. There will be some that think you've made a mistake or they just had a bad day. A couple will think you missed their name. Some guys will just leave. Again, handle each situation with respect.

2 Shot Bonus: Cutting a Returning Player
There are two times that this should happen. The first is usually the jump from the Sophomore to Junior season. In our program we keep as many Sophomores as possible. This means that the next year the move to the Junior Varsity. This is tough to explain IF you are not upfront with the sophomores during that season. 20 will not go into 12. This keeps your sophomore season competitive and ensures that process is being made.

The second time deals with problems. This may be academic, attitude, or bad-decision making.
When your words and actions no longer have an effect on a player's behavior then it's time to release that player. This is not only for their benefit but also for the benefit of the program. I think the biggest trait we can teach our players in Accountability. Hold them accountable until they learn to hold themselves accountable. Then you both do it.

If you'd like a list of the drills we use during our try-outs email me at