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Periodically, a coach will ask me how to run youth basketball tryouts, when you have many kids trying out for a limited number of spots on the team. Or it could be that, rather than having to cut players, you are creating several teams based on the skill level of the players... for example an "A" team, a "B" team, a "C" team, etc (although I would never call them that as this tends to denigrate the B and C teams - give them names instead like "Lions", "Tigers", "Bears", etc).
First, of course, make sure you have a complete list of all the players trying out. Explain your rules, policies, and goals, not only for the try-out, but what you expect for the entire season.
Ideally, you'll have a few sessions to evaluate the players... but this is not always the case. Below are some suggestions in how to organize your tryouts. It will be helpful if you have several trustworthy assistants who can help you run "stations" at each of the gym's baskets. It's difficult for one coach to evaluate 50 kids. By using assistants, you can either move around from station to station, or sit up in the bleachers and observe everything. At the end of each practice (tryout session), discuss things with each assistant, getting his/her comments and suggestions... I would jot these things down, keeping notes.
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Some coaches use a form when rating/evaluating players, giving a score of say 1-5 for each skill for each player. I personally don't like that for several reasons. You lose flexibility using such a system. A scoring system may not take into consideration intangibles such as hustle, attitude, etc... using a scoring system, you could end up with a bunch of kids who may have scored well on their stations, but some of whom are not really "gamers" and do not have the competitive drive. Also, kids feel uncomfortable seeing the coach writing down things on a clipboard... it makes them afraid to make a mistake. Also, spending too much time jotting things down takes away from time actually observing, watching and teaching the kids. You want them engaged, playing hard without fear, and having lots of fun. After a few sessions, you can pretty well tell who the better players are by just observing. As that great philosopher Yogi Berra once said, "You can observe a lot by watching." I would however keep notes of my discussions with each of the assistants, and make my own personal notes immediately after practice.
I would of course get some argument from many coaches who do like having a grading system. They will site that in today's environment, everything must be documented and objectively graded to please parents and administrators and to protect themselves from disgruntled kids and parents. Maybe so... but I'm still "old school" and just believe in doing things the way I think they should be done. But here are several evaluation forms that you can use:
PlayerEval.pdf (Adobe PDF)
PlayerEval.doc (MS Word)
player evaluation grid.doc (MS Word)
Let's move on to structuring the try-out. Most tryouts will be comprised of (1) drills and (2) scrimmaging. In using drills, observe for not only the skills the players possess, but their general athleticism, speed, quickness, focus, desire, etc. A kid could have real natural athleticism, but not be very skilled yet if he/she has just become interested in basketball and just started playing the game... in a year or two, he/she could be a very good player.
As mentioned above, if you have several assistants, you can use all the baskets and set up stations, each station employing a different drill, evaluating a different skill. But I would save time at the end of each session (or the last day) for scrimmaging, 3-on-3, 4-on-4 or 5-on-5 (depending on your numbers). 3-on-3 is probably best as with the smaller number, each player's skills will become more apparent. With 5-on-5, sometimes only certain players seem to have the ball the most. I think scrimmaging is important. Some kids are "gamers"... don't necessarily possess great skills in doing station drills, but are aggressive, get after the ball and play defense and are competitive. You'll only see this if they compete in 3-on-3, 4-on-4, or 5-on-5. I would mix up the teams so that not all the good players are on one team... don't let them get "clicky" and just play with their friends. In 5-on-5 full-court, do not allow them to press... they can pick up their man after half-court.
Coaching Middle School Basketball: Organizing a Tryout
with Nick Cammarano, Frank Antonides (NJ) Middle School Boys' Basketball Coach; career winning percentage (.711), seven 20 win seasons, 1 Undefeated Season - (30-0) - 2003, 1 Run for the Roses Championship, 264 career wins in 14 seasons; Founder and Director of the Quality Basketball Instruction (QBI) Basketball Camps
A painful part of being a coach - a part that many coaches hate - is preseason tryouts. This is especially true when it becomes clear that cuts are in order to get the team to a manageable number of players. The best way to make these tryouts easier for the players, coaches and parents alike is to have structured, well-planned practices for tryouts. Middle School Coach Nick Cammarano explains how you can structure a tryout and shares the secrets to developing a successful tryout system that everyone can feel good about participating in..... (more info)