August 22, 2013

Know Coach Preferences/Peeves to Stand Out at Tryouts

by Clare Lochary |

A version of this article appears in the September 2013 issue of Lacrosse Magazine, the flagship publication of US Lacrosse. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse and its 400,000-plus members today to start your subscription.

C. Milton Wright (Md.) High coach Brent Ritz minces no words when describing how he feels about tryouts.

"It is the most miserable process in the world," he said. "The most miserable days for a coach are the last day of the season, and cut day."

Tryouts are tough on players. No one likes being judged. But what players might not realize is that they are tough on coaches, too.

"It is the hardest thing to do. You're affecting lives," said K.C. Knobloch, an assistant at Moorestown (N.J.) High.

Since you now know how much agita coaches endure trying to make those decisions, why don't you make tryouts easy on them?

First, arrive in shape. If you're huffing and puffing at the end of the first drill, no amount of stick skills or lacrosse IQ will save you.

Assuming you've got the legs and the lungs, practice pressure situations — like broken clears, man-down plays and scenarios in which you must force a turnover or score a goal. Wall ball and other solo workouts are great, but a player whose perfect technique breaks down when an opponent's stick is in her face does not have much use on game day.

This idea is especially useful, since tryouts themselves are high-pressure situations. Some players thrive in that environment (good on you). Others get nervous, which can affect performance. If you're in the latter group, I won't tell you not to be nervous, because it's crazy annoying when people say that. It's like telling a person who's on fire to just stop being on fire because it's bad to be on fire, instead of tossing a bucket of water on her.

Nerves may come, and that's OK. Expect that they will come, and remember that you can handle high-pressure situations because you practiced them. Preparation breeds confidence. Also, mistakes are going to happen, and that's OK too.

In fact, mistakes can be your sneaky secret weapon. Coaches love an athlete who has a smart, productive response to a bad play. Chase down your sloppy pass that became a 50-50 ball, or play some defense on the girl who just stripped you. Avoid visibly freaking out after an error.

"My big pet peeve is, let's say I see a girl who goes in and dodges and she doesn't finish, and she gets mad at herself and slams her stick or hangs her head. Now the ball's going in the opposite direction. You should be re-defending," Knobloch said.

Listening is essential. If a coach tells you to try something different — be it a small tweak like changing your grip or a big thing like a new position — just try it. Even if it feels uncomfortable and you screw up, you've demonstrated that you listen and you're coachable. (Plus, you already know screw-ups are an opportunity, not a calamity.)

A tryout usually isn't a straightforward evaluation of players' individual talent levels; it's about how the team functions as a whole. You may think of yourself as a shooter, but if the team needs a feeder, that role is yours for the taking.

Some people think tryouts are a catch-22. You want to stand out, but that can lead to ball-hoggery. Coaches definitely don't love the kid who shoots every time she touches the ball. In fact, that's a pretty good way to get cut.

But tryouts are a competition, so find a way to excel. This challenge comes up often for defenders, because sometimes the nature of really good defense is that you don't notice it. So bait your mark for check, go for an interception and get a little more physical while keeping it clean. Communicate, get loud and run through the ball every time. Make smart, aggressive decisions that are under control.

You love this game. Make sure that shines through, with intelligent, collaborative play. You're creative and confident (because you prepared yourself well, right?) and capable of doing all sorts of things on the field. Make the most miserable process in the world a little less stressful for your poor coaches, by being so good they don't have to think twice about you.

They may not like tryouts, but you can learn to love them.

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