There is no way around it, tryouts suck.
While some players leave happy, some kids’ (and parents’) dreams are always dashed. Add in emotion, tension, and sometimes anger and tears.
While a lot has to do with parent and child outlook and approach (that’s a different post), the experience can also be shaped by how the team and/or association rolls out the tryout process.
I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly.
Over the past 20 years I’ve been working with teams, groups and communities to make services more engaging for users. What helps people feel welcome? What helps people feel that they matter? What keeps people coming back?
So, when I think of the hockey experience, I’m always considering hockey from that angle.
How can we can make hockey not just a more positive experience for everyone, but an experience that considers the development of all players (physical, emotional, social), not just those who make the top teams? Because if you don’t look after all your players, eventually they will leave and when your top players move on your association will suffer.
Last week I asked 40K moms what they think would help make hockey tryouts easier on everyone. I’ve taken their feedback and added it on to my own experience and opinions as a parent of 3 kids who have played on 35 teams across 6 associations, and as the former president of a minor hockey association.
Based experience, suggestions from coaches, and all the input from the moms, here is a summary of what associations/teams can do.
1. Be organized and transparent
No one wants to get tryout information from a buddy the night before the first skate, or realize they missed the deadline for registration, or have to spend 30 minutes searching a website for a link (as I did two nights ago). This is frustrating and time consuming and makes your association look like they don’t know what they are doing.
It also provides players from last year the advantage because they, along with a couple other players, have probably already received the information directly from the coach (which makes it seem like tryouts are fixed from the beginning).
Truthfully, being organized also benefits coaches so they have an accurate reading of how many players are showing up which helps with running the tryout.
When players and families arrive at tryouts confused they are already primed for a negative experience.
· Have a website? Add your tryouts directly to your association calendar so they are easily accessible. If they can’t be added to the “team season” because the season hasn’t started add each entry as an event.
· Post a list of all registration information, tryout dates, and a way to contact someone with questions in an easily accessible place on the landing page of your website
· Add the line “please pass this on to anyone you think might be interested” to your communications and blast the information out to every email address you have (and you should a lot from previous years or registration)
· Share the information across whatever social media platforms you use
It seems simple but trust me, it’s not practiced consistently across associations. Taking the time to communicate effectively is felt immediately by families.
Think of it this way, it might take an hour for someone from your association to put all the information on the website. Think about the combined time that this saves families. I even did an estimate:
Time Spent Per Family
Total Time Spent by All Families
Tryout Information NOT Posted
100 families X 20 minutes each
2000 minutes (33.3 hours)
Tryout Information CLEARLY posted
100 families X 5 minutes each
500 minutes (8.3 hours)
*In this exaggerated scenario clear communication and organization saves families 25 hours or a full day of looking for information you could have easily had available. It's a stretch, but you get the point.
Plus, it’s just good practice.
2. Streamline your process
How complex is your process? If there are multiple steps it might need to be pared down. I just had a child in a tryout where there was:
· An electronic registration form
· Tryout times were posted somewhere obscure on the website
· Communication with the coach was by Facebook messenger
· A post-dated paper cheque was required for registration (who even has those?) but it would ONLY be cashed if the player made the team
· You had to bring cash to the tryout – nothing else was accepted (who has cash? No receipt provided.)
· There was a paper Covid screening form to be filled out at the rink (we all did it in the parking lot using a clip board)
· And then you had to physically sign another form to get into the rink.
· Automate as much as possible, including registration, communication with players who have signed up for tryouts (you will have email and/or phone contacts), payments, and screening. You will save your association and your families so much time and confusion
· Set up a way to pay electronically for those who can (e.g. PayPal, Credit Card, e-transfer)
· Provide a contact information/email if people have questions
· There will always be people who are unable to access electronic forms, but you will have saved everyone so much time that you will be fielding questions for fewer people and will be better able to help them with their specific needs.
3. Have enough people available to help at the rink
Nothing is worse than showing up with a nervous kid (and parents) and not knowing what you are supposed to do or where you are supposed to go. This adds to the frustration, confusion, and sense of not belonging when half the kids know where they are going and half don’t. Everyone’s nerves are on edge, there are very simple ways to make this a more enjoyable experience for everyone no matter what age/skill level.
· Ask for executive members or volunteers to have a table out front to deal with all the players coming in and process whatever information they need to process.
· Use older players to help show new/younger players where to go and escort them to the dressing room
· Be friendly and welcoming. Even if the player doesn’t make it, they will associate your team/association with class and respect.
· Approach players who are walking around looking confused. Sound ridiculous? It’s not.
4. Neutral jerseys/sweaters for tryouts
Want to reassure parents and players that the team isn’t already picked?
For the love of God, don’t have last year’s players wearing their game jerseys for tryouts while the other players wear whatever they can find in the bottom of their stale bag.
I saw this happen recently. Last year’s players actually wore each other’s jerseys (they swapped) but it was obvious that there were two groups: 1) already made this team and 2) newbies. That’s bad vibes. As one coach told me, it also puts a target on the players from last year’s team because, “If I was trying out those would be the players I would want to take out.”
That's what lots of parents would tell their kids if they were vying for a spot on a team.
· If possible have sets of practice jerseys with numbers specifically for tryouts that can be used year after year and will save a lot of h