Well, that week went by pretty fast…..LOL.
I’ve finally gotten a chance to sit down and write my last blog in my series on high school tryouts. As I had posted, our whole house was under the weather for a week or so and now that I’m in season I have seen time fly by way too fast. But for those of you who are still with me, I present a synopsis of how I run my program and what I look for in tryouts. Please remember, every program has differences and whether across the board or within one school’s programs, every tryout is different.
I’ve coached at a small private high school and at two larger public schools, counting my current position. I’ve also coached one year of a JV program at a public school. In my experience at my three varsity programs we often found ourselves needing bodies. We would have anywhere from four to fourteen players tryout for the team. These are new players, not the returning players. And while I have cut a few players, I generally keep most of those coming out because of the low numbers.
I am quite sure there is probably not a coach alive that would not want to have skilled travel or club players on their team in any sport. It not only leads to having a stronger team, but it is also easier on the coach in developing practice plans. A coach can work on more advanced issues because he or she does not have to spend as much time teaching basic skills. These players almost always have the basic skills down pat. That doesn’t mean the coach can skip teaching basic skills. It just means you do not have to spend as much time.
I remember after I had left the private school I coached at and was hired at Newport Harbor, a division one high school in the Sea View League, which at that time was arguably one of the toughest leagues in the U.S. as far as softball goes. At one of the tournaments we were playing in, I ran into a coach that my teams had played against previously. He asked me “So Mike, isn’t it nice to just be able to roll the ball out and let them play?”
Of course the answer is yes, if it were just that easy.
So what do I look for in tryouts and why did I cut the few players that I have cut?
First, I remember back to a philosophy I learned from the UCLA program originally although I’ve heard it repeated many times elsewhere. There are only two things you can control in life, your attitude and your effort. That is what I look for in my new players. If there attitude is right and they are willing to give the effort, I am reluctant to cut those players, even when they are very raw and have a lot to learn. That’s what coaching is about and that’s also what JV is for. I have an excellent JV coach that is good about working with young players and teaching basic skills. Obviously, if I had forty or fifty players trying out the young inexperienced players who have played little or no softball would probably not have a chance to make the team. So far that hasn’t been the case. What I have been blessed with are some remarkable young ladies who are willing to work hard and learn. Sometimes these players only play one season. Other times they have developed into pretty decent players, even if they were not super players that would go on to play in college.
I am willing to carry a slightly larger roster, say 15 or 16. I am even willing to carry the limit of 20 players if I had that many while still leaving enough players for JV. The reason I feel this way is that to me, playing high school sports is different than playing for a club or travel team for one big reason: PRIDE!
Sure there is pride in winning a national title with your club or travel team. But it is not the same as winning a league, city, or state championship with your high school team. Most players will stay with a travel team for one or two years. But you are at your high school for four years. And there is something special about wearing your school colors, receiving your varsity letter, and representing your school before your friends. I like to see as many players as possible have that opportunity as long as they are willing to work together and contribute as a team. Talent is secondary to making the team. Of course, I will put the best nine players on the field as the starting unit.
Most schools have students that through no fault of their own did not have the chance to play sports. Kids are at the mercy of their parents. Maybe they played at a middle school but just did not receive strong coaching. And if the parents could not afford private lessons or club ball, is that the player’s fault? It is easy to say that such a situation is not my problem. My job is to put a competitive team on the field. But especially if you don’t have large numbers trying out, if you want to build your program sometimes you have to be willing to take on a player who needs a lot of work but who has a great attitude and is willing to learn.
I am willing to teach first so I can win later.
I had asked for other coaches to share their philosophy with us so that you can see more examples. I had a few tell me they would send something in but only one did. Below is that coach’s story.
(I’ve received the following response from a JV coach, Patti Mascone)
In response to request for coaching philosophies, I am a JV softball coach at Atholton High School in Maryland, a medium-sized school in the suburbs known for academics.
The JV level offers a great opportunity for 9th and 10th graders who may not make the Varsity team (some don’t want to play Varsity because they may ride the bench). If we did not have JV, we would have to cut too many girls every year. I have to thank our county, Howard, and the high school, for instilling a lot of the fairness and communication into how our programs handle tryouts.
Of course, my tryout portion is based on those who have been “cut,” for lack of a better term, from Varsity, so that puts limits on what I am looking for. I can’t really pick kids to “pieces” of the puzzle, as that is more for the Varsity level. A JV coach needs kids who can play multiple positions and are overall players.
We have very few travel players in our district, so I spend a lot of time at JV level teaching the game to athletes who may not have had much softball experience. We are also instilling educational experiences to help the players in their future adult lives. So first, we have to look for athletes at JV level. For travel players that do come our way, we look for players who are good leaders, mentors, and teammates because of the variance in skill level. We have strict academic/homework requirements during the season, so we also want and have to take kids with good grades. I definitely read the honor rolls and ask the kids at tryouts to describe on paper their school activities and honors and what they would contribute to the team. I had one player who wrote such a great essay on her tryout sheet, I read it to the team as motivation.
I like to keep anywhere from 15-18 players, because at JV, we keep track of playing time and get everyone in. There are also injuries and other school activities to account for–we play three games a week once we get going (20 total). We have priority system so that kids can do both an activity (e.g., ROTC, band) and a sport to the satisfaction of all involved. However, academics and tutoring take precedence over softball in all cases.
It is imperative that a coach keep an objective grading sheet on each player at tryouts and that all prospects participate in the same drills. It is hugely beneficial to give the prospects a copy of a blank evaluation sheet or tell them what the categories of evaluation are prior to the start of tryouts. Of course, some things like “hitting form” will remain somewhat subjective, but by applying a number from a scale, the coach documents what the coach saw, which is better than writing “like her hitting form.” I also allow some time at the end of tryouts to redo a key skill evaluation or add one so that the kids know they were seen by me. (I typically ask the group what they want to show off.)
At the end of tryouts, each cut player is told why she is cut, in private. The player or parent of a cut JV player may discuss my evaluation and ask about evaluation criteria. The parent or player is not allowed to inquire, discuss, or know anything about the assessment of another player. I don’t and can’t discuss other individuals. I find that a total score keeps the decision and discussion more objective by allowing both a “points cut-off” and “highest point total.” Everyone is used to grading systems, so it works.
About 1/3 of the tryout score is based on sportsmanship, attitude, communication, and other teammate or team member qualities (such as the essay). This is so important. The coach also should NOT be fooled by first impressions. For example, I have timed how long it takes a fielder to make a play (and not just running), because some fielders who seem slow actually make quicker and more consistent defensive plays.
I also use the tryout sheet as a benchmark and go over this sheet with the player at the end of the season during individual evaluations; the player then knows what she needs to do to try and make Varsity the next year.
Because our system keeps all JV and V sports separate (they play at the exact same time), there is no concern about players going back and forth. You either play JV or Varsity. Of course, the Varsity coach can call you up, but once you go up, you stay up. This creates a lot more certainty for everyone involved.
(This is the coach’s personal philosophy and is not speaking as a representative of her school.)
I hope you can take something from our programs to help you in your own. Or if you are a parent of a player trying to make a team, I hope these last three blogs have helped you understand the process a little better. Next week I will talk about my policy for seniors. Can a senior play on JV? Or do you cut them if they’re not a varsity player?