The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Tryouts

How I try to get through it — with a little perspective.

Euan at his first tryout as a goalie. Nice Save!

Last week, this photo popped up on my Facebook feed. This was taken at Euan’s first tryout as a goalie, three years ago. Many tryouts later, some successful, and some not so much, Euan is at it again. A process that eats up most of the last month of summer and stresses everyone out.

You can spot a hockey parent whose child is going through tryouts a mile away. They have a permanent worry line on their foreheads, they have wide, round eyes that resemble a deer caught in headlights and they are constantly straining to hear any piece of gossip, rumour or insight into the process or the results.

Start with… The Ugly

Our hockey association runs tryouts by setting up a series of games, three or four each year, made up of a mix of 1st year and 2nd year players as well as AA to C. There are mixed feelings about this process. The parents of players at both ends of the process are usually frustrated. The less experienced players never get to touch the puck and the stronger players find it too easy and difficult to play with teammates that can’t keep up. Those parents wished they would separate the kids into double letters and single letters immediately.

It’s the parents of players that aspire to play double letters or move from B to A that are intense and continue to push the organization to continue with the same process. They want to ensure their player is properly evaluated.

After those games, the association splits the group into single letters and double letters. The single letter hopefuls continue to play a few games and are classified into A, B and C if there is a C. The double letter players play against local associations and then get classified into AA and BB. The whole process takes over three weeks.

I have had the chance to speak to evaluators, parents, coaches and directors. Never about Euan’s process directly but about what happens, in general, and about the insanity of tryouts.

For example, this year, a group of parents complained that a coach went to the bathroom during one evaluation game, thus missing two minutes of the game. The parents called for the evaluations for that game be void because the coach missed two minutes of the game.

Move Onto… The Bad

The other day, I was told by a parent that their player cried, afraid he might not be invited to the double letter camp because he had under performed during the three games in the initial tryouts. My heart went out to that player. His self worth should not be defined by whether he makes double letters or not.

Parents go into tryouts with expectations. Last year, Euan was an unknown goalie to the double letter crowd. I remember one first year parent trying to figure out who we were and why Euan was suddenly a threat to what he perceived as his son’s guaranteed spot as first year PeeWee AA goalie. He ended up pulling his son from the association after his son was cut from the AA team, but had a good shot at making the BB team.

Add a Little Dash of… The Good

A couple of weekends ago, I gathered with a group of parents whose kids are trying out for different levels and different teams. The youngest player was anxious to make the PeeWee double letter camp. The older boys (including Euan) were waiting to hear if they made the Bantam double letter camp. The kids were playing street hockey, while the parents were making small talk and checking their emails every minute.

The younger, PeeWee player got the email first. We gathered all the boys together and told him he made the camp. The older boys congratulated him and threatened to throw him in the pool, the younger player was beaming from ear to ear. He was surrounded by older role models. He was so proud. The older boys did not hear until after the group had split up — so they could not share in their joy of making the team, but all the players that gathered that day, made their respective camps.

Now, each of those players are battling for a spot on their respective top teams. Last night, I was speaking to one dad who is pleasantly surprised that his son is still a prospect for the AA team. There is one more cut left to make but his son is working hard, hoping to prove he has a spot on the team. He had no expectations going in and is enjoying the journey and process with his son.

Euan has come a long way from his first tryout as a goalie.

And Finish Up With… Perspective

When you think about it, every child that is trying out will have a chance to play. They are lucky to be able to do so. Over the last seven years since Euan has started playing hockey, I find most kids have been placed on the right team for their skill level. Could a child that is a strong B player have played A and been the weakest player on the team… maybe — but what difference does it really make?

Euan has been in C, B, A and AA. The tournaments they won in B did not feel less triumphant than those they won in AA. His enjoyment of the game was the same, at every level.

The difference it makes is the disappointment. It is hard to face the disappointment in your child’s eyes. Not only is that when you get to find out what your child is made up of — but it is also when you get to see what you are made of as a parent. Will he try harder and make the team the following year — or even make a better team. Most importantly can you let him fail — in order to succeed.

In some ways, tryouts are often more about the parents than the players.

Euan has failed to make a team he was aiming for, twice. Each time, it has turned out for the best — we have made great friends and with hindsight, I have realized that he was not ready or that the team was not the right fit. I believe he has progressed more from having been cut, than if he had made those teams. We have met people that have helped in his development and who have introduced him to opportunities he would not have otherwise participated in.

Sometimes, you just have to have faith in the process and let go of the outcome.

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