How to run successful soccer tryouts?

Why do some teams gain and others lose at tryouts?

For coaches, the ability to run soccer tryouts is crucial for building a competitive and cohesive team. A tryout is a chance for coaches to evaluate potential players and determine which ones will fit best with the team’s needs and goals. However, running a successful tryout is not an easy task. It requires careful planning, organization, and attention to detail. People have biases and just picking the soccer player that is memorable because of appearance or noise is a common mistake. Whether you’re a seasoned coach or new to the game, these tips will help you to make the most of your tryout experience and select the best players for your team. From setting clear goals to creating a fair and objective evaluation process, we’ll cover all the steps necessary to run a successful soccer tryout.

The Anatomy of soccer tryouts

Tryouts happen on one or two days, players show up and play small-sided games and coaches select the best players to form the team and that’s it, right? Wrong!

The tryouts are the only time you can improve your team without actually coaching. It is time to recruit new players, let players go, and build stronger team spirit. The structure can be super formal, or it can have some flexibility depending on the club. However, this is not something for experimenting without a structure. The tryouts have 5 phases and each of them is important – if done correctly it will bring more benefit than any tactics you can come up with for your team.

Phase 1: Posting and promoting soccer tryouts

The hardest thing is not to run soccer tryouts; it is to find high-quality players that are not already taken. First of all, you want to post early, preferably earlier than any other team that might be your competition or rival. It makes you look organized. If your team wins a game against another team, there is a good chance the other team comes and checks out your website. I had a player in October signing up for tryouts in May. They wanted to finish the year with their current team then they made the team and played until graduation.

Your best recruiters are your players and their parents, so include them at this stage already. In addition to the legal and ethical limitations of approaching players that play for other teams, I don’t actually hang out with families that have kids in the age of my players. On the other hand, my players know more than half of the players of the other team from other activities – school, neighborhood, other sports, music classes… They would want to recruit other players because they want to play with their friends. At this stage, we want to get the number of signups as high as possible, so the only instruction is “invite your friends for tryouts”.

Phase 2: Preparing your team, your coaches, and soccer moms/dads for the tryouts

Your team

You have to talk to your team about tryouts about two things, preferably at the last two practices before the tryouts. The first message is to take tryouts seriously. That means that they need to be leaders in behavior and performance if they want to keep their spot. The second message is to make sure that it’s up to them and not others to set the tone for the tryouts. Convince them, and not you, that they run the soccer tryouts. Each day is an opportunity to coach something and taking responsibility is the lesson at this point.

Soccer moms and soccer dads

The messages are the same as the players, but if the parents reinforce the message to them, then it’s going to work better. You want to show the expectation to the parents that they need to create a positive atmosphere at tryouts for newcomers. At this stage, some parents will have enough hints that they should be exploring other clubs. Some of them might even approach you before the tryouts to chat. Always have that chat no matter how painful it might be. Furthermore, there is a possibility that one of your best players will express interest in tryout for another team. I always allow them to do so while stating the reasons why they should stay for their development and that I want them to stay. Haven’t lost a player I wanted to keep that way.

Your coaches

If you’ve done phase 1 correctly, then you will be overwhelmed with new players that you don’t know much about and you will want to have other coaches help you with evaluating them. Also, you will want to ask them to come and assess because you want an objective eye and you don’t have it, as you have been to coach too many of the players on the pitch. Ask many coaches to help you, meet each coach, and give them clear guidance with forms of evaluation. Even if the quality of some of those evaluations is not great, it will likely be covered by other coaches and it will be a great experience for the less experienced coaches.

Phase 3: Run soccer tryouts – everybody has a role to play

Your role

If you’ve done phase 2 correctly, you will not evaluate players at tryouts. In the same way, presidents don’t actually write international agreements at summits, you shouldn’t evaluate players at tryouts. Your job is to network and create real connections with the players and the parents. If you are a shy introvert, try chatting individually in smaller groups. What you cannot do is be unapproachable for any reason, including spending your time on the pitch. Be positive regardless if you see that the player has great potential or no chance to make the team, this is not the time to announce those decisions in public.

Parents role

Their role is the same as yours, to create a positive atmosphere and network. Hopefully, they have good things to say about the club, but even if they do small talk, or chat about their own interests outside of soccer, you don’t want silence on the sidelines and piercing eyes at the tryouts. There will be mistakes and some players (old or new) will misbehave – you want that to happen in a relaxed atmosphere.

Coaches role

Once the teams are split into small-sided games (4v4 to 6v6 in size), then I like to assign at least two coaches for each game. For the day, you actually need them to run the soccer tryouts. I select the coaches and they usually have two characteristics I am looking for – animator and assessor. The animator is the one that can bring players together, get their attention, excite them, and communicate what we are doing. One important caveat that is they need to vary the positions of the players if possible – you can’t have only strikers on the soccer team. The assessor is the one that analyzes and writes down a lot of things, including behavior when the ball is on the other side of the pitch. As players get older, the role of the animator is less important, but not when they are young. However, very few coaches excel in both and it’s up to you to figure out what you have before the tryouts. Having great accessors and bad animators tryouts of pre-teen players will result in players not accepting your offers.

Players role

One year we had one player whom we weren’t sure if we should offer a spot or not. His performance was solid, was outspoken and polite to the coaches, but something seemed off. Luckily we had a friendly game during the weekend and I asked individually some of my players what they thought of the tryouts – almost all of them singled out this player as a disruptor, not only at tryouts but also in school and other activities. He would always get into trouble and the only player who liked him was a player that was leaving the club because he refused any structure, including coming to practices on time, if at all. Your players don’t have the experience you have, but you also don’t have the information that they have – talk to them and use it.

Phase 4: Selecting and extending the offer

At this time you need to switch to a different mode – gathering information and making decisions. Gather all the information you can from your coaches and talk to them. There is a good chance that they will not be happy to write down everything. Especially, if it’s something that can make them look biased, usually in a negative way. So, making them talk through them can give you information even through their facial expressions.

At the end of the day, you need to make decisions about your team, because you, not the other coaches, will be with those players every week for hours. Decide what is the number of the full roster. Then target to leave 2-3 spot open. Finally, extend the offers within 24h after the tryouts with 48h deadline. Some of the players will get offers from other teams and you do want them to make the choice.

Phase 5: Following up on the players that will not be part of the team – the club’s decision or the player’s decision

Player’s decision to join another club

Don’t take it personally, it often doesn’t reflect your ability to run soccer tryouts. Sooner or later, a player will inform you of a decision not to join the team. You should switch gears from recruiting to wishing them well in their development. Otherwise, you will either appear too needy. Even if you succeed in recruiting them, it will likely create a relationship as you own them something and they are a superstar. However, if you maintain a good relationship, they will always have in the back of their mind the idea that you want them but don’t need them. They might have the “grass is always greener on the other side” thought when they face a challenge. At that moment, you will be that other side in their mind. We recruited excellent players 3-6 months after tryouts because they didn’t like whichever team they initially decided to join.

Club’s decision to release a player

If anybody is shocked by this decision, you have failed. You should release a player if you believe that they will never reach the level of your starting lineup. This can be because of their potential or because of their attitude. If the issue is their ability or potential, the steps to release a player start at phase 2 where they are aware that performance is important. Then, phase 3 will show them well below the best players. By phases 4 and 5, it will not be a surprise. If the issue is their attitude, they will be aware throughout the year.