October 5, 2012

10 tips to make the most out of your club tryout

If you're trying out for a club such as Laxachusetts or the NH Tomahawks, be sure to pay attention and go hard. (photo: Mark Brodie/New England Lacrosse Journal)

In the old days, kids worried about making the high school team, competing with friends and neighbors hoping for a shot at the varsity squad.

These days, with most collegiate recruiting done on the select-club circuit, a lacrosse player’s most nerve-wracking days of the year can be club-team tryouts.

It’s not just that tryouts often draw the best players from every high school in the region, it’s that the perception is that making the “right club” can make a player a virtual lock for a college career. What’s more, that particular perception doesn’t just apply to high school players ready to be recruited, it exists all the way down to the grade-school levels, where an early start on a top club is often seen by parents as the ticket to college.

No pressure, it just feels like your lacrosse dreams are flashing in front of you as you go through a tryout, fearful of not being judged as “good enough.”

Whether it’s a club tryout, a chance to make some special event such as the UnderArmour Games, or a shot at the varsity, here are 10 things that every player should know about tryouts:

1. Take nothing for granted.

Most club programs start without needing cuts; everyone makes the squad. Moreover, as long as those players are loyal to the club, they keep their spot.

That’s how it is … until it isn’t, until the club has sufficient demand at an age level so that it can’t accept everyone, or until coaches believe they can improve the quality of the team by removing lesser players.

A common refrain from disappointed club players is that, after years as a youth player on a squad, they got cut when the team instituted roster reductions at the high school level. They were caught by surprise, and didn’t take the tryout seriously enough.

Even if there have never been cuts before, act like there will be. Prepare for the tryouts like your playing career depends on them because — at least where the club is concerned — it might.

2. Pay attention.

Not every drill will be familiar. You do not want to look lost because you don’t understand what’s happening; watching the players who go first may help, but they may not get it either, so you could just repeat their mistakes.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you are unsure what a coach wants.

When coaches stop drills or make points about what they’re seeing, listen up and incorporate their message into your game. They just stopped tryouts to tell you what they want; don’t give them the same thing that just prompted them to blow the whistle.

3. Go hard, to the whistle, all the time.

You can’t control what a coach sees. If they happen to be writing a note about someone else at the moment when you make your play of the day, it’s like your best play never happened.

So make sure that any time they see you, they see maximum effort. Do not take it easy on inferior opponents, or be scared to go against the tough ones; you need to prove that your skill level and your attitude are a fit. Run through your repetitions — rather than jogging — even in line drills, play each repetition like the game is on the line, even when your opponent is not acting that way.

In time, that leaves an impression (and a much better image than you get by failing to go hard).

4. Be positive, and act like you belong.

Beyond controlling your effort, make sure you have a positive attitude and show that you can be a good teammate. Celebrate the good moments of others — even if they are competing with you for a spot on the team — and pick up the kids who are down.

In a big tryout where kids have so much on the line, loners — and the kids who need their own space for whatever reason — stand out, and not in a good way.

5. Communicate on the field.

The less you have played with the others around you, the more important it is that you talk on offense or defense. So if you are trying to set up a double team as you ride, for example, communicate with your partner, loudly … so that the coaches hear it, too.

The end result of the play doesn’t matter so much; coaches sometimes hear your potential as much as they see it.

6. Don’t be afraid to show your weaknesses, rather than allowing them to be “discovered.”

Most players know the holes in their game. It might be the way they use their weak hand — or run around it — or that they aren’t great at defense.

Worse yet, they try to hide those things. They will over-emphasize the strong hand, sag in on defense and more.

That works, until you face great players; assume that the players at your club tryout fit the description.

Great defenders will take away your strong hand, a great shooter will take advantage of your sagging defense, and once they discover your weakness and know you have no answer, they will use every repetition to look good at your expense.

If, however, you use your weak hand to set up the strong one — show them you will go to your left as a first move rather than a last resort, even if you only intend to challenge lightly and move the ball — it sets you up to come back with your strong hand and show well. Likewise, if you come out and play aggressive defense — even if the prospect scares you — it may get a player to back down; even when it doesn’t, and a good player burns you, coaches may still give you credit for being aggressive.

7. Don’t be foolish and highlight your shortcomings.

This does not contradict the last point; turning your weaknesses into positives is much different than shining a spotlight on what you can’t do. As much as you want to be a team player, don’t put yourself in a place to take turns that make you look bad.

I was recently at a team tryout where, in one drill, a player consistently went into a line that was short. The line needed left-handed attackers, and this player was a right-handed defender; every repetition he took made him look bad, to the point where other evaluating coaches — who did not know him — got the idea that he just wasn’t very good.

Once a coach makes that evaluation of you — and they could base it on two or three plays — it’s tough to change their mind.

Jumping into a short line or getting an extra run is great, so long as it still highlights your game. Don’t be afraid to go when the coaches ask, but don’t jump into a situation that repeatedly highlights your flaws; at some point, you’ll leave a bad impression of your abilities on the coaches, even though you were only trying to help out.

8. It’s OK to be selfish. It’s not OK to be dumb.

You are at tryouts to showcase your game. Take your shots, challenge the defense, show what you can do.

But don’t be so determined to look good that you make yourself look bad. You may think it’s great that you beat the double team and scored, but the coach might have seen you force the ball against two defenders rather than make an easy pass.

Pick your spots, and don’t be afraid to move the ball, because it will come back to you; if you play like every touch is your time to be a star, the coaches will see that, and won’t like it.

9. Being cut is not the end of the world.

Oh, it sure feels like it, but if you love the game, this is just a stepping-stone to your next chance to play it. With so many clubs, it’s possible to find one that is a better fit for both your skills and competitive makeup. And as much as the club teams want to tell you that their kids get recruited more, the truth is that good college coaches know that they can find players anywhere, and not just from the big-name programs.

What’s more, where one program — or the school varsity — sees you as a role player, the next club (or the JV coach) may recognize your potential and make you a key cog in their plans, giving you a better chance to learn and develop your skills.

10. Get as much feedback as you can.

Any time a coach is evaluating you, you can learn from what they see, good or bad. Try to find out what they saw as your strengths and weaknesses — especially if you get cut — so that the tryout process helps to make you a better player.

This article originally appeared in the September-October 2012 issue of New England Lacrosse Journal.

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