Ice Hockey: Player Selection At Try Outs!

One of the first tasks to be carried out by a coach at the beginning of each season is the selection of players for a team. This article will present some important aspects of the player selection process.
One of the first tasks to be carried out by a coach at the beginning of each season is the selection of players for a team. This is a major responsibility, regardless of age level or competitive category. This chapter will present some important aspects of the player selection process.

Particular attention will be paid to the steps to be followed in selecting a team at the minor hockey level. In addition, a brief supplementary section will deal with a few additional considerations for player selection at higher levels of competition.

After reading this you will be better prepared to:

    Develop a prioritized checklist of variables to be evaluated while selecting players

    Select different evaluation methods

    Design the content for try out sessions

    Assign responsibilities for player evaluation

    Develop a plan for releasing players


Developing A Player Selection Try Out Plan

In most youth hockey situations, coaches are faced with the task of choosing from a large pool of players to fill a limited number of positions on a team. Coaches are usually expected to complete this task in a relatively short period of time. Therefore, it is important for the coach to be organized in advance with a plan for carrying out the player selection process.

To properly develop this plan the coach must take into consideration a number of significant factors. The answers to the following questions will assist the coach to design the most effective player selection plan.

Number of Players Attending Team Try Outs?

There should be some form of pre-registration so the coach can be given a complete list of players in advance of the first tryout ice session. This may not always be possible and, thus a coach may have to be prepared to make some last-minute adjustments for the initial session. Having a reasonable estimate of how many players will attend will greatly assist the coach to decide how to use the available ice time.

For example, it may be unrealistic to plan for a 30-minute scrimmage if there are only 22 players. On the other hand, greater than 50 may require splitting into two separate groups for the first few sessions.

Available Ice Time?

The amount of ice time available for the tryouts is another important consideration. Knowing how much time you have to get down to the final team will effect not only the content of the individual tryout sessions but also the timeline for the release of players. The norm in youth hockey is a relatively brief tryout period with about 4-to-6 hours of ice time.

Thus, the coach must plan the tryout sessions to be as efficient as possible. One reason for the short duration available for selecting a team is that often other teams at lower levels must wait for the releases from the higher level teams before beginning their tryouts.

How Many Players To Keep?

Obviously you must determine in advance the desired make-up of your team. Do you plan to keep 13 players for 15? Nevertheless, in youth hockey you must consider how many players you can effectively use in games to ensure they receive sufficient opportunity to play.

Very little benefit will be gained by marginal players who see limited ice time. You really have a responsibility to play and develop the players you choose.

In addition to the absolute number, the coach must also consider what special qualities to look for in players. For example, it may be desirable to have at least a few players with the versatility to play both forward and defense positions.

Skills to Evaluate

In order to select the best players from a large pool of candidates, it is necessary to establish criteria on which to make comparisons among players. Thus, the first step in player evaluation is to determine what variables to measure. What qualities are you looking for in your players?

Are some of these more important than others? The answers to these questions will depend to a great extent on the age category as well as the competitive level of your team. For example, at the Pee Wee level there will likely be more of an emphasis on evaluating basic skills rather than individual and team tactics.

Similarly, physical characteristics such as strength and endurance will be more relevant at the Midget category than at the younger age levels.

The following is a list of some of the players qualities which might be evaluated during the tryout period:

Individual Skills

  • skating
  • passing
  • pass receiving
  • shooting
  • stickhandling
  • checking
Team Skills
  • offensive tactics
  • defensive tactics
  • ability to play with others
Mental Qualities
  • intelligence
  • reading and reacting
  • concentration
Physical Qualities
  • strength
  • muscular endurance
  • cardiovascular endurance
  • balance
  • agility
  • coordination
  • power
Emotional Characteristics
  • self-control
  • patience
  • desire
  • attitude


For The Coach

Player Evaluation Checklist

Develop a checklist of the variables on which you would evaluate players in selecting your team. List them in order of priority and provide some specific examples for each.

For example:

Individual Skills

  • shooting
  • ability to execute an accurate wrist shot on both the forehand and backhand
  • ability to shoot in stride

What About Goaltenders?

As you might obviously expect, the characteristics which should be evaluated for goaltenders will differ significantly from those players at other positions. In addition to individual skills such as skating, puck handling and passing, goaltenders must be evaluated on their ability to stop the puck using the stick, gloves, pads and body.

Mental, physical and emotional characteristics should also be evaluated. Once again, however, there may be a difference between goaltenders and other players in both the specific components to be assessed as well as their relative priorities.

Other Considerations?

Although you will now have a comprehensive list of skills/characteristics on which to evaluate your players, there is at least one other factor for your to consider in selecting players for your team. The players attending the tryouts will come with varied summer hockey experiences and different competitive backgrounds.

Some may have played summer hockey or attended a hockey school or power skating camp while others will be on the ice for the first time in five or six months. Therefore, if you have adequate time in your tryout period, it may be advisable to devote the first few sessions to skill development drills and exercises in order to assist in putting all players on a more equivalent basis prior to initiating the evaluation process.

In addition, at the younger age levels, a player's previous experience in competitive hockey may range from more (e.g. recreational hockey only) to a number of years at the highest level of competition (e.g. AAA hockey).

In some youth hockey associations, teams are selected prior to the summer. This certainly alleviates the problems associated with varied summer experiences. However, the issue of the player's potential to improve as well as the effects of growth and development may be magnified in these situations and should be taken into consideration.


How To Evaluate

Once you determine what to evaluate, the next step is to organize your tryout sessions in such a way that the players can be assessed on the identified variables. This assessment may be carried out using the following methods:

Specific Skill Drills

Individual skills such as skating and passing can be evaluated using combination skill drills. Initially these drills may be artificial with little or no resistance, however, there should be an attempt made to simulate game conditions in a progressive manner.

Skill Testing

A number of skill tests are now available, particularly for skating speed and agility. These can be used by coaches as a means of comparing players. As a cautionary note, however, it must be remembered these tests are typically far removed from actual game situations. In addition, they can use up a great deal of time, particularly for a large group of players.

Competitive Drills

Paired races and other drills which pit two players against one another in a confined space with a specific objective (e.g. beat your partner to the loose puck) are excellent methods of evaluating individual skills as well as mental and physical qualities. For example, you can learn a great deal about a player's desire and ability to use strength in the corner.

Although competitive evaluation drills can be used throughout the tryouts (and during the season as practice drills), they are particularly useful in the latter stages of the tryouts when the coach wishes to create specific pairings to compare players being considered for final positions on the team.

Scrimmages

Naturally, the best way of evaluating a player's ability to play the game is to evaluate the individual under game conditions. Scrimmages can be effectively used throughout the tryout period, beginning with the first session. You can evaluate most of the previously listed player characteristics during scrimmages and exhibition games. Furthermore, they provide perhaps the only real means of assessing a player's ability to read and react.

Here are a few additional considerations related to the use of scrimmages in your evaluation of players:

  • Change line combinations and defense pairings in order to observe players under different situations
  • Use exhibition games to help you make decisions about borderline or marginal players
  • Unless skill deficiencies are extremely obvious, you should not release a player prior to seeing that individual under game conditions (e.g. scrimmage and/or exhibition game)


Designing Tryouts

A constructive way to approach a tryout is to see it as a way of placing athletes on teams where they will benefit most, not as a dead-end experience where players are cut away from hockey.

The tryout is a good opportunity to get some pre-season skill observations which can tell both you and the athlete where work may be needed. It should be as well thought out and organized as other parts of your program.

Planning for the First Tryout Session

Proper planning will eliminate a lot of potential problems at the first tryout session. Therefore, the coach should ensure that the administrative details are taken care of in advance. In many situations, the minor hockey association will assume responsibility for some of these tasks but the coach should be aware of them in any case. The following are some guidelines related to the first tryout session:

A. Inform Parents/Players of Tryout Details in Advance

    Parents and players should be advised, well in advance, about the requirements for the tryouts.

    This is particularly important at the younger age levels where parents may not be aware of the need, for example, of full and proper protective equipment. In addition to informing them about the association's policies regarding such aspects as protective equipment, medical examinations and age classifications, they should also be provided with a complete schedule of sessions and other pertinent information regarding the conduct of the tryouts.

    Where feasible, this information should be provided at a meeting in order to permit parents to ask any additional questions. The meeting format will also provide you with an opportunity to outline your player selection plan.

B. Ensure that Necessary Resources are Available
    To be able to plan the content of the sessions, it is necessary to know what resources will be available. You should have sufficient pucks (at least one for every player), pylons and scrimmage vests.

    It is also desirable to have water bottles, particularly if the sessions are intense or longer than 50 minutes in duration. A first aid kit should also be available for all sessions, along with a qualified first aid person or trainer.

C. Arrive Early
    Although proper planning should eliminate most problems, it is advisable to arrive at the arena well in advance of the actual starting time. This will provide you with ample time to check that everything is in place and to answer any questions from parents, players or your support staff.

    Since most of the administrative tasks have been assigned to others, you should also have time to review the tryout plan with your assistants and make any last minute adjustments.

D. Prepare the Players
    Prior to going on the ice, you should outline the selection process to the players. This pre-ice session should include the following information:
    • What player qualities you are looking for
    • Explanation of the drills to be run and their purposes
    • Objectives of scrimmage sessions
    • Target timeline for team selection


Assigning Responsibilities For Player Evaluation

The next step in the player evaluation process is the recruitment of other personnel to assist in the assessment of players.

A. On-Ice Assistants

    You should have two or more on-ice assistants to help conduct the tryout sessions. These individuals can assist in player evaluation for specific positions (e.g. defensive players, goaltenders), by carrying out evaluation drills with small groups of players.
B. Observers
    Another means of obtaining player assessment is to use "expert" observers in the stands who are assigned the task of rating players on specific criteria. In addition to providing you with a second opinion on borderline players, observers can also be used to record more detailed player assessment information for later analysis.
C. Coaching Staff
    In the end, final decisions for player selection rest with you, the coach. In some cases you may be familiar with a number of players, having observed them in previous seasons. Such prior information, combined with player assessments from observers and on-ice assistants, is invaluable.

    However, it is essential that you create opportunities for yourself during the tryouts to screen and evaluate all players as effectively as possible.


Releasing Players

Once decisions have been made regarding the release or cutting of players during the tryout period, you must have a plan for informing these players. Although the details of this plan will vary from coach to coach, and will depend to some extent on the age level of the players, the following guidelines should be adhered to as much as possible.

A. Avoid Public Announcements

B. Speak with the Player Individually

C. Invite Questions from the Player

D. Direct the Player to Another Team

E. Leave on a Positive Note

F. Dealing with Parents

Be prepared to answer questions from parents regarding the reasons for your decision. Again, be honest and straightforward. In addition, try to avoid confrontations with parents, particularly in front of the player.


Evaluation Tools

The following is a sample evaluation tool which could be used by coaches at the advanced levels of hockey during player selection, periodic player evaluation or scouting the opposition.

Player Evaluation And Scouting Report

Date______________________

PERSONAL INFORMATON

Name__________________________________
Address_______________________________________
City_________________________ State___________
Zip Code_______________
Telephone___________________ Birthdate_________Height__________ Weight____________
Shoots: Left Right
Preferred Hockey Position________________
2nd Preferred__________
Team_____________________________________
Level of Competition___________________
Association__________________________________
City____________________ State_______________
Name of Evaluator_________________
Telephone______________________________
Address_________________________________
Position of Evaluator____________
City_____________ State_______ Zip Code_________

RATING SCALE

Exceptional 6
Very Good 5
Good 4
Satisfactory 3
Weak 2
Poor 1

Circle Number Indicating Skill Rating:

Goaltenders
1. Reflexes 6 5 4 3 2 1
2. Cover Angles 6 5 4 3 2 1
3. Control of the Puck 6 5 4 3 2 1
4. Agility 6 5 4 3 2 1
5. Anticipation 6 5 4 3 2 1

Style of Goalie Standup Butterfly Defense Players
1. Moving the Puck/Playmaking 6 5 4 3 2 1
2. Point Play 6 5 4 3 2 1
3. Net Play 6 5 4 3 2 1
4. Neutral Ice Play 6 5 4 3 2 1
5. Board Play 6 5 4 3 2 1

Style of Goalie Standup Butterfly Defense Players
1. Moving the Puck/Playmaking 6 5 4 3 2 1
2. Point Play 6 5 4 3 2 1
3. Net Play 6 5 4 3 2 1
4. Neutral Ice Play 6 5 4 3 2 1
5. Board Play 6 5 4 3 2 1

General Qualities-All Players
1. Concentration 6 5 4 3 2 1
2. Mental Toughness 6 5 4 3 2 1
3. Drive 6 5 4 3 2 1
4. Hockey Sense 6 5 4 3 2 1
5. Stamina 6 5 4 3 2 1
6. Attitude 6 5 4 3 2 1
7. Coachablity 6 5 4 3 2 1
8. Living Habits 6 5 4 3 2 1
9. Leadership 6 5 4 3 2 1
10. Toughness & Aggressiveness 6 5 4 3 2 1

Forwards
1. Ability to Break for Openings 6 5 4 3 2 1
2. Scoring Ability 6 5 4 3 2 1
3. Playmaking/Moving the Puck 6 5 4 3 2 1
4. Defensive Play 6 5 4 3 2 1
5. Face-Off (where applicable) 6 5 4 3 2 1

Skill Techniques-All Players
1. Skating Forward 6 5 4 3 2 1
2. Skating Backwards 6 5 4 3 2 1
3. Skating Mobility 6 5 4 3 2 1
4. Puck Control 6 5 4 3 2 1
5. Shooting 6 5 4 3 2 1
6. Checking 6 5 4 3 2 1

Please see below for definitions.


Player Evaluation Report Definitions

Goaltenders

Agility - general balance, movements around the goal area, recovery to a balanced stance.

Anticipation - ability to read the development of the play and make appropriate adjustments.

Consistency - ability to perform well throughout a game, as well as from game to game regardless of score or league standings.

Control of The Puck - deflects or covers rebounds, passes and freezes the puck when necessary, intercepts passes across the front of the net, poke checks.

Covers Angles - moves out at the proper time and in the correct relationship to the puck.

Reflexes - quick movements of arms and legs from all positions.

Defense Players

Board Play - uses body, maintains control or gains possession of the puck along the boards and in the corners.

Moving the Puck/Playmaking - uses partner, makes the soft lead pass as well as the firm crisp pass at the right time. Passes off a shot, keeps passing options open, does not telegraph passes.

Net Play - ties man up without tying up self, protects the goaltender, moves the screen from the path of the puck, clears loose pucks without losing possessions, uses body effectively.

Neutral Zone Play - reads the attack and adjust to various situations, stands up and makes the play at the blue line, uses body effectively, controls the puck and initiates counterattacks.

Point Play - reads the play and pinches, supports partner and becomes more involved in the attack at the right time, reads and selects right shooting option, uses body effectively.

Forwards

Ability to Break for Openings - reads play, conserves ice, selects proper path, timing and acceleration to get into the clear.

Defensive Play - ability to forecheck, backcheck, kill penalties and plays defensively in the defensive zone.

Face-Offs - ability to win the face-off consistently to both sides as well as forward and back.

Playmaking/Moving the Puck - moves puck at the right moment, gets into the clear after making the pass, does not telegraph plays, keeps options open, takes check to make the play, good awareness of all options.

Scoring Ability - uses good selection of shots, timing, accuracy, concentration and positioning to maximize scoring opportunities.

General Qualities - All Players

Attitude - unselfish, works hard, listens and tries to perform to the best of their ability, team player with desire.

Coachability - listens to instructions regarding team play and individual improvement, ties to execute to utmost of ability.

Concentration - ability to remain intense and stay with the play at all times.

Drive - constant desire to excel in all situations.

Hockey Sense - understanding and adaptation to the play, awareness of the overall play development.

Leadership - leads by example, cool in tough situations, makes "big" play, respected by teammates.

Living Habits - gets adequate sleep, eats and drinks moderately to remain in top condition.

Mental Toughness - sticks to the game plan, stands up to tough situations.

Stamina - ability to play at a high level of intensity throughout the game and from game to game.

Toughness & Aggressiveness - desires to play physically within the rules of the game, takes a check, clears traffic in front of the goal, blocks shots.

Skill Techniques

Checking - angles well, completes the checks, checks with intensity.

Puck Control - includes stickhandling, passing and receiving.

Shooting - power and accuracy in all the shots, use of variety and knowledge of when to shoot.

Skating Backward - stride, balance, speed, acceleration and change of pace.

Skating Forward - stride, balance, speed, acceleration and change of pace.

Skating Mobility - crossovers, tight turns, quick stops, moves right and left with equal efficiency.

Submitted by: Val Belmonte