|A new feature for SoccerNationNews, David Gómez, Jr.’s column on being a soccer parent and his experiences navigating the joyful and occasionally turbulent waves of youth soccer. Here is Gomez’s column on preparing your player for Competitive Club Soccer tryouts.
Any time your child is about to embark upon something, we as parents get both excited and nervous. This new endeavor is a journey which, like any trip, brings its challenges and amazing memories. The experience is why we take the journey. So, sit back and enjoy it, but don’t go into it without knowledge as I did several years ago.
There are many aspects to tryouts. There is the physical aspect – is your player up to speed with technique, speed, agility, and strength? There is the mental aspect – is your player confident, quick, and aggressive? There is also the chemistry aspect – does your player fit with both the other players and the coach? This fit is very important. There are also things to consider as a parent and questions to ask. We will attempt to cover these as much as possible.
The physical preparation aspect of tryouts is very important. The classic saying goes, “How do you get to play at Carnegie Hall? Practice. Practice. Practice.” Well, how do you become a better footballer? Touches. Touches. Touches. Take your player out to your backyard, local park or patch of grass, and pass, shoot and dribble with them. The more they touch the ball the more familiar they get with feel for it. You don’t have to be a Hamm or Beckham in order to play with your child. Get out there and have fun. If you’re a bit more structured there are good books and DVDs which can give you some guidance on what and how to do things. However, the most important thing is to get them ready by playing with them.
Depending on your player’s age, this dynamic will also have an impact on their preparation physically. At around the age of 12, a child starts to develop in muscle to the point where stretching out is very important. Ensure that each workout begins and ends with some stretches. You can go to Lance Armstrong’s LiveStrong.com for some guidance on stretching.
Now you’re at the tryouts. Have your player warm up with some stretches, light jogging and touches. Work out with them and get them ready before the tryouts. Most tryouts have some warm-up as part of them. However, don’t take the risk of there not being any. Now your player should be physically ready to tryout.
Mental preparedness is also very important for your player, since most likely they were at the top of the team/league in recreational soccer. You’ve now entered into an area where the entire group your player is with is now at or even above that level. Talk to your player and explain this. However, be sure to explain this by telling them in a positive manner. You want them to be aware of this, not to be scared of this – if you get my drift here.
Ensure your player is ready by trying to help them visualize. Ask them for example, “What are you going to do on the pitch?” Remind them of what they have done in games, and pump them up by asking for that now. Help to build their confidence and courage. I’ve seen some tryouts where there are 20 even 30 girls for 14 spots.
With the words of encouragement, try and give them some anchor words to remember your advice. I use strength and fire. One of my daughter’s strengths is her strength. Her trainer, Brittany Gonzales, at Champion’s Quest helped my daughter realize this. (In another article I’ll get into the pros and cons of private training and athletic academies.) The other term, “fire,” is meant to remind her that she needs to play with intensity every minute of the practice and game. Find a couple that work for you and your player.
It is very important that you make the transition from coaching – especially if you were your player’s coach – to observing. The best place to make this transition is during tryouts. No verbs. Try and not say anything. Just try and relax and simply observe how your player is doing out there. Be objective when comparing your player to the others during the tryouts.
Keep in mind that tryouts often times last a series of sessions. It is rare for your player to be told after a single session that they made the team. Be patient. I know it’s not easy.
Watch the coach. I prefer to see a coach show things and discuss how to do drills. Not just discuss. Why is that? Well, if a coach is capable of showing, then they have some skill and have played the game at some level. This is important in doing the refinement of, say, a shot. Something as simple as a tight abdomen while shooting greatly increases power. Now, a coach who’s never played may not know that. It’s worth keeping an eye out for this.
Team chemistry is very important. There are two aspects to this. One is during the scrimmages or small sided games – does your player work well with the others on the pitch? If they seem out of place out there, then maybe your player simply is not jelling with the others. Give it a few sessions to be sure of this. If there’s not a fit, there are plenty of other teams in your area.
The other aspect of chemistry is one between your player and the coach. Watch how he or she interacts with your player and others. How does the coach instruct? Is it a positive, constructive manner, or is it simply pointing out the faults. Don’t get me wrong, a coach’s job is to correct. However, there is the, “You’re doing it all wrong. Let me show you how.” And then there is the, “I like what you were thinking there, however, how about trying it this way next time.” It was for the same correction, with different approaches and often different immediate and long-term results. I’ll cover more of this in a subsequent article on what to look for in a coach.
If you get a chance, see how your player does in a game against another team in either a friendly (for those who are new to soccer, a friendly is the name for a soccer match between two teams with no bearing on their standing or not in a tournament) or a tournament. This is the best judge of the team chemistry aspects just mentioned.
Now, while your player is undergoing the tryout, take the time to meet the other parents. You’d be surprised at how much time you’ll spend with them over the next season or more. The league season and tournament seasons are long. Get to see how you fit with them.
This is also a good time to ask questions of others. Many are in your same situation – new to clubs – or sometimes they are veterans of the club scene. Ask questions and see what they know of the coach. I’ve heard some parents talk about the importance of the club. To be frank, the club is not the one instructing your player. The club is not the one on the pitch with your player. The coach and the other players are far more important than a big-name club. The big-name club is for your sake and not your player’s sake.
Now, take any negative comments about clubs and coaches with a grain of salt. It could be that that parent had a bad experience. However, if you hear several of the same things a trend is there, and you should pay heed. Remember, a fit for a player with a team and a coach is like buying a car. You have to try out several until you find that perfect match. I know. My daughter has now had three coaches in four years. We spent two of each of the four years with the same two clubs. However, the fit with the first coach was the best, but we were lured away by a “top” team in the same club and then by a great technical trainer at another club. It is really about the fit for you and your player with the coach that teaches and relates best for your player. No one in later life will ask your player, “Did you play Silver Elite at age U10?”
Questions to Ask
Ensure you speak to the coach. It is very important to do this either before or preferably after the tryouts. In most areas during the younger ages (U9 and U10), leagues allow only 8 players on the pitch – goalie plus 7 field players. (Now, don’t get me started on why this is. There is no reason why there shouldn’t be a full complement of 11. My daughter has played in non-club leagues in the inner city where all ages play with 11 per side. It works out fine and actually helped with development.) I only mention this since you need to know two things. First, how big is the roster allowed to go to, for example 14 for U9/10 and 18 for U11 and up. The other thing you need to know is how many the coach plans on putting on the roster.
There is a very simple reason for asking this, and it really deals with playing time. If, for example, you have a U9 team who rosters maximum of 14 there is usually one goalie that will play full time. That means there are 13 players for the other 7 spots during a game. That’s a tough but not impossible task to manage. Ask the coach, “What is your philosophy on playing time?” If they say it’s according to skill or something like that, be warned this coach is about winning.
I’m not saying that focusing on winning is not what a game is about. However, you’re talking about a child who only develops by touches in game situations. You don’t get many touches on the bench or with just 5 minutes a half or even a game.
Another question to ask is what the coach’s goal is for near and long term. If they say something about being a top team, know that results are what matter most. If that’s what matters to your player – not you – then this may be a fit. However, I advise that results are important but not all important.
It’s a fair question to ask a coach to list their top strengths and weaknesses. This isn’t meant to put someone on the spot. It is meant to see if the coach is self-aware. Know yourself and seek self improvement is something I learned long ago in the United States Marines, which has served me well in all aspects of life.
Ask if the team is playing Spring League or not. This is an excellent time to get acquainted with the team without having to make a long term commitment. It’s also a great way to explore other opportunities for your player, even while they are with a team, or simply to stay match fit in the off-season. (There really is no off-season in Southern California fútbol, by the way.)
How Many Tryouts?
Now, when we embarked upon trying out with our player it was late in the tryout season. I had no idea that roughly the beginning of State/National Cup or just before – January/February – teams start the tryout process. Some teams post on their website and stick to a schedule. Some post announcements on their website and also on others such as SoCal Soccer Forum. So take a look and see what and where things are. You can get a good listing of teams by going to places such as Presidio Soccer League, Coast Soccer League, and the Southern California Developmental Soccer League. Each of these leagues has excellent competitive club soccer teams associated with them. They are all listed in Southern California by the way. There are many in your area if you’re not in Southern California. Try a Google search for club soccer “YourCounty” to see what you come across.
Now, why do I suggest you look around? Well, simply put there are many teams and therefore many coaches. Go to a few and see what’s out there. If your player gets an offer from a team, don’t feel pressure to sign with them right away. Take the time to see what’s out there and ensure you have a good fit.
Now, in the beginning all teams at U9 start at the lower level, sometimes called Bronze. That is a fair way to start. The team must prove it should be promoted to playing tougher competition. If your player is older than 8 or 9 years old, be color blind. If your player gets an offer from a Gold team, be grateful of that. However, if your player also gets an offer from a Silver team, just because it’s Silver doesn’t mean it’s a lesser team for your player than Gold. Remember, it’s about the fit for your player with both the other players and the coach.
Guest Player (Guesting) Opportunities
Now, I’ve mentioned guesting with teams earlier. I wanted to clarify this a bit and expand. Just because your player is guesting with another team doesn’t mean they are going to switch teams. Sometimes coaches think that. It’s simply an opportunity for your player to get more touches and see other styles of coaching and play. Nothing wrong with any of that, from what I have experienced.
At the club level, your player will be issued a player card and a medical release form. These belong to the player not the team or club or coach. The team manager or coach usually keeps these together for league and tournament play. It is much simpler for a team manager to have them for checking in the team at these events. I know because I was a one-and-done team manager once.
I mention who owns these because in a friendly they are not usually needed. However, when guesting in a tournament these are needed. Sometimes parents are afraid to ask for them. The card and form belong to your player. Ask for them and be honest with the team manager and coach about what you’re up to. The club soccer world in your community is small. Secrets are tough to keep, and from my perspective honesty is always the best policy.
Never be afraid for your player to guest and get more touches in game situations. This will only enable them to develop more quickly.
Enjoy the beautiful game and your child’s love for the game.