When You Can’t Get to the Soccer Field: Tryouts in a Coronavirus COVID-19 Compromised Community
These are new times and call for innovative solutions. The world may feel like it is standing still, but we must think ahead to when we can be back on the beautiful green grass and training.
Editorial Note: Don’t laugh or scoff — Yes, technology can actually help us hold tryouts now. This may not work for young teams, but it is a great idea for many competitive clubs.
Many soccer clubs face disruptions for tryouts and team formations in Spring 2020 due to field closings related to cautions around the spread of the COVID-19 virus. This creates several headaches for players, families, coaches and clubs, including:
- Delay in holding tryouts which are the basis of a club’s team formation decisions,
- Confusion and stress on players and families as to which team or club on which a player will play
- Postponement of player registration and associated revenue which is often the primary source of revenue for club operations for the year,
- Uncertainty of retaining and paying existing coaches and staff between now and when tryouts will be held to form new teams, and
- Holding up club decisions regarding how many coaches and staff need to be hired for the upcoming season.
I spoke with five youth soccer Directors of Coaching (DoCs) from California, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Washington state who also have experience as professional and national team players, coaches of college and professional teams, managers of WPSL and UPSL teams, and as the DoC for US Soccer. I also spoke with a current USL player who has been through many tryouts at the youth, collegiate, and professional level, and is now involved with a new youth club in Arizona.
What did I learn about tryouts?
Ideally, we want our youth clubs to attract players because they view our club and our teams as a great place to learn, play, develop, and compete in the sport.
In reality, many clubs face an incredibly tight timeline to hold tryouts, make team offers, and form teams in just a few days. The competition and recruitment for players can be intense.
Tryouts are not always what they seem.
Most teams do not have huge turnover in players from season-to-season or year-to-year. This retention can be an advantage for player development, staffing consistency (and employment) for coaches, and club budgets. It can also build loyalty to a club.
According to the DoCs with whom I talked, coaches often know nearly 90% of the players they want on their teams prior to formal tryouts.
There is always the play-maker newcomer and the rising star game changer but most coaches know who they want on their squad.
The result is that tryouts can be more for show and marketing, with a secondary purpose for evaluating players who come from outside a club’s existing network. Often, tryouts are primarily about team placement and less about player evaluation. In addition, the new players who attend tryouts are frequently fighting for only a few spots on a team, sometimes for specific positions.
Team rosters can fluctuate over the summer tournament season. Final team rosters are often not required until the beginning of fall league seasons. Some leagues and national affiliations offer “player pass” ability in which players can be shared or loaned between teams within or between clubs.
The basic, near-term needs for soccer clubs in tryout season are to form teams, begin registration revenue flow, and provide good information to players and their families. The longer-term need is to retain players, club members, and quality coaches.
What if there were another way to form teams, jump-start registration revenue, and navigate the probable delays in traditional tryouts that so many clubs currently face? What if we used mid-season and end-of-season player evaluations to place the 90-95% of the players that coaches already know they want to offer spots on their teams? Then tryouts would be focused on the remaining players who are new to our clubs or are competing for specific open spots on our teams.
It will include a conversation about strategies to address tryouts when fields are closed, teams must be formed, coaches desire employment stability, and registration revenue is essential.
Ruth Nicholson is an internationally certified professional facilitator, mediator, and organizational alchemist helping youth sports organizations better support coaches, teams, and players. She is the founder of GO! offering proven governance, leadership, and administrative tools.
As a coach for TeamGenius, Ruth helps sports organizations develop assessment and feedback programs for players, coaches, and referees. She was a co-creator of the international 2019 Think Tank to Improve Youth Sports which engaged over 60 speakers from two dozen sports.
In 2018, Ruth was a finalist for the Hudl Innovator of the Year award for youth soccer. Her work has engaged coaches, sports professionals, and organizations in North America, Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and South America.