Assigning Players to Teams After Tryouts

“I’m not sure what you need first – the players believing or others believing in them – but in the end, both have to think it.” Jurgen Klopp

The first week of tryouts for any High School program is fun, exhausting, and memorable in many ways.

As the Head Coach, you spent hundreds of hours preparing for this first week of the season, and now you have come to the point of placing players on the teams in your program.

In the High Schools (2) I have coached soccer, I have never cut players. Neither have the three head coaches I have been an assistant for. Nor have friends of mine who coach at the largest schools in our State, having upwards of 150 players try out.

The reasons are simple.

  • We remember why all these players chose to play soccer at our school – because it is fun, and they want to hang out with their friends. So, we want to give them that opportunity.
  • We also understand the growth and maturing process of our athletes. The “off the radar” freshman might become an excellent player by their junior or senior year.

I personally like to keep the freshmen together as the “C” team if at all possible. There is really no advantage for a freshman to play with an older group of players (unless he/she is on the Varsity because of their skill). There are many social advantages to keeping the freshmen together on one team. Those advantages far outweigh, in my opinion, playing at a bit higher level. There is always an opportunity for the better freshmen to play at a higher level during the season.

I also like to keep the sophomore players together forming the “B” team. At his age you might start to see some players who are ready to play at the Varsity Reserve (VR as I call it, as opposed to JV – I just never liked the term JV) or the Varsity level. A “new to the game” junior might be placed on this team also, but not if I can help it. I like to keep them with their friends and classmates.

The Varsity Reserve is made up of junior and senior players who are not on the Varsity, with the occasional sophomore player depending on numbers.

I would never place an upperclassman on the “C” team, even if his skills would place him there. That is too much of a slam, and they might be too big and physical to play against freshmen competition.

If our numbers dictate adding a second “C,” “B” or “VR” team, then that is what we do. We do not cut players, and we want all players to play equal time at these levels. That might mean a scramble in the pre-season to find more games and perhaps another coach, but for our program it is well worth it.

At the Varsity level, I like my teams to consist of 16 players.  At a larger school I went up as high as 18, but that is stretching it. The reason I like 16 is because I can give all players “significant” playing time in each game. One Keeper and 15 field players is my goal roster to begin the season.

I also keep in mind what classes these 16 players are in. I like to have 2 or 3 at the most from the freshmen and sophomore classes combined. Very rarely will a freshman make the Varsity. It is just too big of a jump physically for most freshmen, even if they are skilled. The rest are juniors and seniors.

Once you build your program with these numbers in mind you are never in a rebuilding mode, just reloading. You always have a solid core of returning letter winners with significant varsity playing time. So, in a typical year you might have 7 or 8 seniors playing Varsity, which leaves you with 8 or 9 returning players with lots of varsity experience plus those underclassmen who you called up for the Section and State Tournament run. You just reload each year.

How do I communicate which players are on each team?

As mentioned above, I have set the president for freshmen and sophomore players concerning which teams they will play on. It now comes down to those VR and Varsity players (plus the freshmen/sophomore players you will keep on Varsity).

After a week of training together, sorting them out in Champions League games, and playing in a scrimmage at the end of the week where you have separated most of the VR from the Varsity, it is really about choosing between 10 or so players for 5 or so spots. The hardest part is communicating with those “bubble” players between Varsity and VR.

I have tried several ways over the years.

  • Posting the list in the locker room on Monday before practice.
  • Posting the list online through our website, or email, or team management system the Sunday following the scrimmage on Saturday.
  • On the bus ride home from the scrimmage, talk to each player individually on the VR and Varsity teams and let them know which team they are on to begin the season.
  • Have the players on both teams run an eight station “circuit run” around the soccer field on Monday. During the circuit run I pull out players and tell them which team they will be on.
  • Gathering all the players together on Monday at practice, just like a tryout practice, and letting them know as a group which team they will be on. Then break out the teams with their respective coaches.

There is no “easy” way. No matter what method you use, it always leads to half a dozen players joyful and another half a dozen players really hurting. That is a major reason I like to have my VR coach sensitive to the emotions during this Monday practice. I also make myself available to meet with the players who are hurting during or after practice. Sometimes it takes a while for them to process their emotions.

Next time we will talk about finding a good substitution pattern for your games which gives all your Varsity players significant playing time. If you want to get a head start, check out some great advice in the book “The Messiah Method” by Michael Zigarelli. There are some terrific tips on team building, substitution, game day management, etc. from the winningest College Division 3 programs (Men’s and Women’s) in the early 21st Century.

By Brad Carlson

Brad has coached a variety of sports in the community, middle school, and high school for 40 years (coached the MN 2021 Class A State High School winning team.  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.