Friday, July 14, 2006



An excellent article by John L. Pitts

It happens every fall. It's back to school time, of course, but it's also very busy in the world of sports.

While some youngsters are playing football and others may be getting excited about baseballs looming World Series, young ice hockey players are preparing themselves for a different kind of challenge - the team tryout.

Whether you’re and eight-year-old looking to join your first organized team, or a teenager hoping to join a travel squad, you have to prove yourself to the coaches. Who are picking the team. And if you’re the parent of a youngster who is getting ready for a tryout, you have an important role, too.

Talk to enough coaches, and you’ll find that the key to successful hockey tryout is to be properly prepared - physically and mentally - before taking the ice in front of the people who are going top be evaluating you. There are probably as many different styles of tryouts as there are coaches. But most of them are going to have a few things in common - prospective players will be evaluated on the basic skills (skating, passing, shooting, stickhandling, etc.) and how ell they function as part of the team.

The first thing a player needs to do, a few weeks before the tryouts, is to begin getting into "Hockey Shape". Even if you’ve been active all summer, you’ll still need to flex your hockey muscles after several months of inactivity. (If ice time is hard to come by, inline skating can help you with conditioning in warm weather. But keep in mind, you still will have to get accustomed to your ice skates and pads again.)

Make no mistakes - the coaches will be able to tell if you’re in shape or not, and it plays a significant role in how they’ll evaluate you. It’s the same whether you’re a beginner or a more advanced player.

"We’re looking for players who are already in reasonably good condition," says Chris Coury, who runs a Midget AAA (age 17 ½ and under) team in Detroit’s huge Little Caesar’s League.

"The best advice we give is this - before the tryout, get yourself in shape," says Dan Esdale, a Massachusetts District Director who helps oversee player development for USA Hockey. "Get some ice time, do some skill work and be in the best shape you can."

In royal Oak, Mich., the local house league opens rinks for preseason conditioning sessions.
"We have 16 or 17 skate sessions scheduled for the preseason, and I’d say maybe a third of the house league kids will participate," says Robert Kristophik, who oversees the league, which involves about 1.300 youngsters.

Getting into shape before a tryout is important, but so is having a good understanding of what you’ll be facing when you get on the rink. Players, or their parent s, should talk to a coach before the tryouts begin to get an idea of what’s going to be required.

Young players, trying to impress coaches before the local association holds its draft, may spend more time on skill drills during tryout sessions.

"We’ll divide the kids into age groups, then have each group skate five times while the coaches are on the ice to evaluate," Kristophik says of his house leagues evaluation process. "It’s not really a tryout, but it’s a chance for the coaches to look at skating, stickhandling, passing and shooting skills." After the evaluations are over, he says, the house league coaches conduct their draft to fill their rosters.

Older players will likely find themselves on the ice in more controlled scrimmages.
"Our typical tryout? What we do is simple - we scrimmage and we scrimmage a lot," Coury says.

What is hockey sense? Coury explains: Some players are really good skater or have some skill with the stick, but they really can’t play. Others, maybe they’re a little ragged in terms of skills, but they know how to play."

To better evaluate different combinations of players, Coury says he conducts scrimmages over a span of five days.

"For the first day or so, you may have some players who are going on pure adrenaline, then gradually you realize that they can’t keep up. Others may start slowly, then really get into the flow of things."

The bottom line, these coaches say, is that the tryout process is all just part of the process of putting a team together. It isn’t a question of whether a coach likes you, it’s a question of whether your skills can help the team better and what the coach can do to help you with your skill development.

USA Hockey High School Section Chairperson, Ted Brill of Grand Rapids, Minn. echoes that philosophy: "we’re are just trying to figure out one thing: Who is ready to play when you drop the puck. Skill are important, but having the sense of what is happening on the ice is the most important thing."

A typical tryout for Bill and his coaches may involve as many as 500 teens hopeful of making a 20 player travel roster. "There is no magic formula, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder," Brill says. "The thing that players and parents need to keep in, mind is that we’re doing the best that we can."
Physical preparation is an important part of the tryout puzzle, but so is mental preparation. Coaches agree that players need to enjoy themselves during the tryout process. Parents have an important role to play in keeping expectations realistic, especially for young players who are just getting started in the sport.

Brill, who has been coaching since 1960 at all levels in Minnesota, with state and national tittles to his credit, his tryouts always start with a little talk.

"I’ll tell the kids this not a matter of life and death," he says. "It’s supposed to be a game. Pressure is the biggest enemy that a player has to deal with in a tryout situation. Be relaxed, go out and have some fun."

That’s always good advice.

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