A Different Approach To High School Tryouts

“Competition is key to developing players. The only practice environment in which you truly develop a player is a competitive arena. . . Competitive drive is not governed by innate ability, but by self-discipline and desire.” Anson Dorrance

It’s been a great off season.  Here is where you should be BEFORE your first practice.

  • You have met with your Captain’s Parents and have given them a laundry list of things for them  to do before and during the season.  Let them take as much off your plate as possible.  Delegation is hard for many of us.  The key is to follow up.  People will do what you inspect, not what you expect – even good people like your Captain’s Parents.
  • You have provided times (twice a week for me) during the 2 months leading up to the beginning of the season where the players who want  to can do such things as weight lifting, speed and acceleration training, and ball skills training.
  • You have provided your players with list of skills you want your players to practice during the summer so that when they come to training their first touch is solid.  I use the MOTI App, of course.
  • You have met frequently with your Captains.  You have prepared them for their Captain’s Practices and have very loosely monitored (through parents perhaps) to make sure everyone is safe and having fun while preparing for the season.

I love training week, the first week of coaches training for the regular season. It is a blast, the kids love it, the parents love it, and the coaches love it! Why? Because we make this training week about competitions. We play games. We have contests. We work hard, play hard and rest hard. We have fun. And by the end of the first week, we will know which team each player will be placed on.

I look at training week as a part of try-outs, but try-outs are much more than just one week. I tell the players that try-outs are not just about your soccer skills. It is about how you treat your parents, your friends, your teachers. It’s about how you serve your community, how you apply yourself in your classes at school, and how you spend your free time.

For the Varsity, the whole regular season is a part of the try-out process. During the regular season we get to evaluate each player at practice and during games. To do that I play each player significant time each game (15-20 minutes per half).  Once we get to Sections and State, I tell them that playing time may change depending on the situation. The substitution rotation may also change from the regular season.

We have come up with 9 training sessions for the first week. The first session is called the SWC Pentathlon – 5 events testing their fitness and soccer skills. The players keep track of their own score card, earning up to 10 points per event. The top 8-point getters are the Pentathlon Great 8.

Each day we have a skill focus and another competition. The skills begin with a competition within each class. This forms the “Great 8” for that event. Then these 8 compete against each other for the championship. The events are:

  • The “Golden Boot” for the best 1v1 player
  • The “Freaky Fast” for the fastest player
  • 4v4 tournament, playing with your training partner
  • PK Shootout
  • The Bronze Gloves for the best goalkeeper

And then, each day we play a little competition called “Champions League.” We form teams of 6-8 players depending on the numbers and play a series of 5-minute round robin games. The players accumulate individual points according to how their team does in each game. Then the next day the players are placed on different teams with different players and play again, accumulating points for that day. By Friday everyone will have played a series of short, small sided games with a variety of players and will have accumulated their own personal scores. The top 8-point getters are identified, and the top point getter wins the event.

What is particularly great about Champions League is that over the course of the week we can rotate players into playing against better competition and see how they do. In the end, the best players typically are at the top of the point totals – but not always! That is where the fun begins. This does, however, give the coaching staff a great opportunity to watch every player in the program compete and show us what he has on the field. It is hard to hide in Champions League.

We also cover attacking and defending corner kicks.  Set pieces win soccer games.  All three of our goals in last season’s State Championship final came off of set pieces.

Two – a – day practices for the first four days.  90 minutes in length with a break in between for refreshments and recovery.  Then a single practice on Friday, a scrimmage against another school or schools on Saturday, rest and recovery on Sunday, and team selections on Monday (first game is Thursday generally).  This gives me a chance to personally watch every player multiple times.

Practices are with the full program of players (70-100 depending), with the seniors / upperclassmen partnering up with the freshmen / new students for skills and stretching.  This is key for developing a program that the younger and new players feel a part of.  They learn how to become a part of a team that cares for each other and is willing to help each other succeed.

Key Points On Parents

Parents have been watching their kids play all their lives. Hopefully they love to watch them play. I encourage the parents to come and watch everything from tryouts to practices to games. However, I do ask that they first watch a video on YouTube by John O’Sullivan called “Changing the game in youth sports.” To show me that they have watched the video I have them text me these 5 little words from the video, “I love watching you play.” Then, they are welcome !

I have nothing to hide during tryouts. As a matter of fact, I love it when I see parents openly engaged in watching that first week in particular. I like to watch for them, walk over, and talk with them. Again, it is all about communicating with them, being open, and letting them see how much fun their child is having playing with their friends.

I make myself accessible in a variety of ways. My cell is published, as is my email address. I answer phone calls, texts and emails as soon as possible. I even spend one half of a game on the parent’s side of the field with the parents just to let them ask me questions and listen to me as I do some game analysis.

If you want further information on my first week of training, please feel free to email me at:


What until you see what I have for you next month – choosing teams and a “no cut” policy!

Read another article about coaching – Training Captains – Captains Practices

By Brad Carlson

Brad has coached a variety of sports in the community, middle school, and high school for 40 years including coaching the MN 2021 Class A State High School Champion.  He has coached soccer from U6 at the recreational level to U19 at the club level and all age groups at the high school level, including 11 years as a head coach.  He holds a USSF "B" coaching license and USC diplomas.