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by Enio Sacilotto, International Hockey Camps, West Vancouver Hockey Academy & Croatian National Men’s Hockey Team

It is the late summer and hockey season is coming fast! A famous quote says, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity”, for a hockey coach this could not be further from the truth. The better prepared a coach is the greater the chance he will have in getting his individual players and team to reach their full potential, this is the goal of every coach! A good coach will prepare a yearly plan incorporating the technical, tactical, psychological and physical (fitness) components of the game. Coaches at the rep level are required to hold tryout sessions, evaluate players and pick a team. This process should be part of the yearly plan and should be well thought out, organized and planned very carefully. This article will give coaches some ideas and tips that can be applied to a yearly plan and tryouts sessions this fall.

The coach must ask himself a few fundamental questions before beginning any planning:

1. What is the coach’s philosophy? What kind of team would he like to have; a fast skating, skilled team, a good passing team, a good checking team or a bigger physical team?

2. How many players are returning from the previous team? How many goalies, defensemen and forwards? What type of players are they; defensive defensemen, offensive defensemen, checking forwards, offensive forwards, or scoring forwards? What positions do they play; right or left defense, center, right or left wing? How many of the players shoot right or left? Assuming that they all can make the current team, how many spots are open? What kind of player are you looking for and at what position?

3. The coach then must plan how much ice time is available and when, come up with a schedule and notify all the candidates by mail or telephone. I find a letter is the best way to communicate, in this letter, the coach can include his philosophy on the team, a criteria of what he is looking for and expecting (on and off the ice) from a player that makes the team, the process of the tryouts, the fact that all positions are open even if a player was on the team the winter before and a schedule of meetings, ice times and any other events and activities.
A few general tips and ideas:

1. Have an organizational meeting at the start of the tryout. The coach can reinforce what was communicated at the original letter.

2. It is very important for the coach to keep an open mind. Young athletes change dramatically over the summer. A good player may lose his motivation or find some other interests. A weaker player the season before may have attended many camps over the summer developing his skill or he may of matured physically. I am against clubs and associations that pick their teams in the spring for the following season, too many young athletes grow at different rates.

3. Have a few unbiased evaluators at the camp. The more eyes watching the players, the better. One coach cannot see all! Have regular evaluation meetings regularly and constantly rate the players.

4. Come up with a rating system and standard evaluation sheet. This makes rating players easier and more organized.

5. Skills tests vs. scrimmages. I am for skill testing, but a player with fantastic skill may not be good at reading the play and not be as effective in a game. A combination would be ideal, but give players a chance to show what they can do at a scrimmage.

6. I understand that some coaches are under time restraints because of ice time, but it is important to give players an adequate chance to show what they can do. A young player may be nervous or not have skated for a few weeks.

7. Avoid politics! Keep an open mind and give each player a chance, be fair!

8. If the coach is in a recruiting situation it is important to check character reference. Many times it is better to have the player with good character and less skill than a player with great skill and poor character.

9. Cutting or releasing, it is important to talk to each player individually. Give the player some feedback and let him know the areas that he can improve in. Avoid posting lists on the wall or having someone else doing the releasing.

A few tips when actually at the try out:

1. Make an equipment check list well in advance and check it to make sure you have everything; pucks, whistles, pylons, stop watches…..

2. Have sweaters with all the player’s numbers on them so you can properly identify all the candidates. Make sure all the evaluators have updated lists.

3. Double check arena times, dates and dressing room assignments.

These ideas and tips will make the tryout a fair and organized event! If you have further questions or suggestions I can be reached at 604-255-4747 or