By John Fitzgerald
Director of Coaching Education, LIJSL Coaching Academy
I’ve been a college coach for over 20 years. One of the things I do often, and do well, is evaluate talent. Two years ago I was assisting at U/11 club tryouts by evaluating players. My daughter was one of the players, and she desperately wanted to move up to a higher level team. On one of the tryout nights I went in to say goodnight to her as she lay in bed, and she said, “Daddy do you think I’m good enough to move up?” I hesitated for a moment, took a deep breath, and replied, “No, not yet.”
Admittedly, as a parent it wasn’t easy to deliver sour news to my young daughter, but it was the truth. She was upset, but can be tough and stubborn so didn’t show it much. She simply wasn’t ready. I watched her working extremely hard all season prior to the tryouts, and though she had improved, she wasn’t where she needed to be at that time to move up.
Something I’ve noticed the last few years with many of my college players is that they don’t handle criticism very well during the early part of their college careers. I believe this is due, in part, because they’ve rarely been criticized during their young lives, even when it was warranted. Therefore, they’re not prepared to handle it when it comes their way.
In our culture of giving out “participation trophies”, tryouts can be a rude awakening for players…….and their parents. If a player doesn’t make the squad, “The coach doesn’t know what he’s doing; It’s all politics; She doesn’t like my child or me; The team was set before tryouts even started; It’s because so-and-so is friends with such-and-such….” This may all be possibly true at some point. But isn’t there a possibility that your child isn’t good enough? And isn’t there a chance that if your child isn’t at the level he/she wants to be at, that he can work to improve?
Tryouts are probably more stressful for parents than for the players. We read into situations and naturally want good things to happen to and for our children, so when things don’t work out for them we feel the angst. But not making the cut isn’t the end-all. In fact, it’s a life lesson opportunity. A chance for them to handle what they perceive as bad news, to show their character, to evaluate if they’ve successfully handled the one thing they always control – EFFORT. And if they did in fact put in their best effort in preparing for the tryouts, learn that that’s not a guarantee for promotion. And then the best lesson – to pull yourself up, dust yourself off, realize that you’re still you, and push forward – don’t quit. Being selected or not selected for the team does not define your character.
My daughter is still having fun playing soccer, and continues to work hard and try for upward movement. She may or may not be successful in doing so, but I’m confident that either way she’ll be okay in the end, because she knows that she has put in her best effort and can look herself in the mirror and be happy with that. I want her to have fun and be in a healthy, safe, and challenging environment.
One last thought: regarding the tryout process, I’ve heard concerns that if a player doesn’t make the squad when he/she's young that it could hurt their college playing chances. Keep this in mind - in all the years I’ve been coaching college soccer, I’ve never asked a prospective recruit, “Where’d you play when you were 12?” Know why? Because no one cares, and at that point in their career, it doesn’t matter.
Have fun – see you on the field.
Fitzgerald is also an Associate National Staff Coach with the NSCAA and Associate Head Men's Soccer Coach at the United States Merchant Marine Academy.