Competition During Tryouts: Why You Need to Bring the Best Out of Every Player

Competition Kelvin Cech Ice Hockey Coach Tips and Drills

I can’t decide which socks to wear. 

I don’t have any that match the North West Giants’ specific shade of maroon, so on the eve of my fourth training camp with the team, I’m left to decide based solely on gut feeling. 

Which socks will guarantee a successful season? If I wear the argyll print knee-highs I’ve been packing around since coaching peewee hockey in Edmonton, will the wins follow?

Coaches do strange things if they have any inclination whatsoever that it will help them win during the regular season, but when it comes to tryouts, coaches and evaluators are normally hands-off. There’s little communication to the players and parents because they’re expected to sort out the process on their own. Is this because we’re afraid parents will accuse us of favouritism if one player understands how things work better than another? Or are we just hoping the players will figure it out without guidance? Or maybe we’re just not in coaching mode yet. We’d rather sit back and watch hockey than take an active role in improving the on-ice product. 

No matter what the reason for this lack of communication, I think we can agree times have changed. Communication is good. Communication helps. 

Let’s start coaching at the beginning of the tryout process this season. It will make your decisions more difficult because more players will play better. This is a good problem to have. 

There are, however, distinctions to be made at different points in the process. minor083d_91

1. Initial Scrimmages

Most tryouts begin with either skills sessions or scrimmages. There will be plenty of athletes you’ve never seen before, and on the other side, there are plenty of players who have never played for you and are unclear about what you want.

So tell them. A fast pace, hard work, creativity – whatever you like, talk about it. Gather each team before they skate and introduce yourself and your expectations. Not only will you see more of what you’re looking for, the players will be more at ease to relax and play with confidence. 

Inspire Connect Lead

2. Practices

After the first round of releases, practicing will help the remaining players develop their timing with the new pace of play. Plus, it will allow you to speak to your group on the ice in your natural habitat. 

On the ice in practice, communication comes in the form of drills. Re-create situations you’ll see in upcoming exhibition games and don’t be afraid to stop practice and teach. 

  • Want more second and third chances? Reiterate the importance of stopping in front of the net. 
  • Want to break out smoothly? Work on D-D passes and winger support.
  • Want more shots blocked? Work on clogging shooting lanes.

Don’t be afraid to communicate to individual players either. Tell them what they can do better and what you’re looking for. Players these days crave information, they want to know what the coach is looking for. 

And then it’s up to them to hold up their end of the bargain. 

3. Exhibition Games

It’s time to introduce some simple systems. I’ll never forget trying to figure things out during tryouts without knowing where I was supposed to be on the ice. 

  • Are the wingers overloading the strong side on the breakout?
  • Are centremen sticking with the puck carrier down low?
  • How many players are forechecking in the offensive zone?

Draw a quick diagram on a whiteboard in all three zones so players are on the same page when they’re on the ice. Knowing your system will let players read and react naturally without thinking too much. And yes, it will probably expose some players who don’t understand the system, but it’s up to you to weigh that against their skill level. 

A little coaching goes a long way. Communication during tryouts has a negative stigma attached to it, but it’s based in the old ways of coaching – intimidation and mysterious expectations. Talking to your players even though they’re not your players yet will bring out their best and ultimately make your final roster stronger. 

Sure, parents talk during tryouts, and some might claim the process is unfair because you didn’t speak directly to their child. That’s going to happen no matter what, it’s something you have no control over. 

So worry about what you can control, and create a valuable experience for all your players this fall. 

And wear whatever socks you want.


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Kelvin is an assistant coach with the UBC Thunderbirds Men's Varsity hockey team and a freelance hockey writer.