Cissell Says: Expert Knowledge and Advice for Running Tryouts
June 6, 2013

Tryouts are here and for a young coach this can be a stressful time. So we decided to pick a coach’s brain on the ins and outs of running tryouts to get a better sense of what goes into it. What better coach to talk to than Chris Cissell?

Do you know who Chris Cissell is? Well you probably do if you are from Kansas City. Cissell has been coaching youth soccer in Kansas City for 20 years. He started coaching in 1993 while playing at William Jewell and is currently coaching U14 and U17 boys club teams while he is also at the helm of the University of Missouri Kansas-City women’s soccer program. If there was a Mr. Kansas City Soccer Award, Coach Cissell would most likely be a finalist every year. Read on to see what Cissell says about running tryouts and get his expert advice for young coaches…and boy does he have a lot of advice for you.

# How do you get players comfortable at tryouts?

You have to understand when kids hear the word tryout they come in very scared and nervous. So you have to make them feel comfortable and at ease otherwise you won’t be able to see what kind of players you have because both the players and their parents are so freaked out by the word tryout.

Coach’s tip on having a relaxing atmosphere… This is just a little thing but I don’t refer to it as tryouts when I’m out there. I refer to it as a training session or I call it a practice. Even though everyone knows it’s a tryout, I try to use a different word than that just to try to get people to relax a little bit.

# How long should a tryout be?

It depends on the age group but I usually hold a tryout session for either an hour or an hour and a half. That’s plenty of time to see what you need to see from each player. With the younger ages you really shouldn’t go longer than that because they’re going to lose focus and lose interest.

# What are you looking for when you evaluate a player?

Touch, skill, and vision. I like to see their passion for the game and get a feel for how hard they’re going to work. I want to see how versatile they are; are they a one-dimensional player or can they play both offensive and defensive positions. I also like to see if this player can combine and work with others. Can they play in a 2v2 or 3v3 situation where they have to do a lot of quick passes and a lot of give and goes with a lot of off ball movement? Are they the kind of player who gets the ball and dribbles till they lose it every time and continues to take people on instead of trying to get their teammates involved? There’s a lot of different things you’re looking at based on age and the level of your team.

# What are the best drills to do at a tryout?

I like to do a lot of 2v2 and 3v3 so you can see kids in tight space and see their decision making skills. You can see their offensive and defensive qualities and it they can combine with people. I prefer small-sided games instead of big scrimmages. Instead of 8v8 or 11v11 scrimmages I push them into 2v2, 3v3, or 4v4 situations and see how they can handle that. The kids will get a ton of touches on the ball and are always involved in the game. You can really evaluate them in that situation.

Coach’s advice on a quality tryout drill… It depends on age groups, but I like to do 1v1 to goal. You see if a player has the ability to not only beat a defender 1v1 but can also score. If someone is a really good defender this can show how well they defend. If you have goalkeepers that are trying out then that’s a good drill to watch them too. One on one to goal can get everyone in every position involved and shows you a lot: who has the offensive ability, who can take people on 1v1, who can finish, how players defend, and how the goalkeepers play.

# What goes into Coach Cissell’s tryout plan?

I like to start off doing skill work. Individual ball work can show you who has the touch and skill. I look to see who can juggle-depending on the age-because I feel like if someone can juggle than they’ve probably been around the ball a lot and play a lot of soccer. Then I like to go into 2v2, 3v3, 4v4, and play some quick transition games. After that, a couple of shooting drills with 1v1 to goal. Depending on the age group there’s a lot of different things you do in tryouts.

Coach’s advice on doing full field scrimmages at tryouts… Depending on the age and how many players you have maybe a scrimmage at the end, but I don’t even think that that’s necessary unless you feel like you have a lot of players and you want to get them in a game setting. Every tryout is different. If you have players that are coming into a team that is already kind of established and you want to see how they play with your current players and team than a scrimmage could be a good thing to do.

# Should a player’s attitude factor into their evaluation at tryouts?

I think attitude is very, very important. It’s especially important to see what their coach-ability is like and what they are like in practice. If you bring all the players together to explain a drill and you talk to them about what you’re expecting and what you want and then a player is not paying attention or is not listening, it’s a big red flag. You have to think, if you put them on your team are they going to be coachable, to learn, and understand what you are trying to accomplish or are they going to be a distraction?

# Should conditioning or fitness tests be involved at tryouts?

There’s not a lot of need in tryouts to go on a mile run and time the kids to gage their fitness level. I think you can see that through playing and those small-sided games reveal what a player’s fitness level is like.

# Is it hard on a coach to cut players?

I absolutely hate cutting players. That’s the thing I absolutely hate about my job and hate about soccer. I hate having to cut players and go to the kid and the parents and tell them that they didn’t make the team. This time of year is very, very stressful. It’s awful for the kids that don’t make it and get cut, but it’s also awful on the coaches. I don’t know too many coaches that like it.

# Is it more important to pick up the best players or piece together the best team?

That’s a great question and I think every coach probably looks at that differently. I like to go back to something that Sir Alex Ferguson said, “I don’t put out my 11 best players. I put out my best 11.” I always thought that was an interesting quote and he said that was one of the best ways to describe his coaching philosophy. Obviously you are always looking for the best players you can get and you’re looking for game changers but if they don’t fit in well with your team, they’ve got a bad attitude, they aren’t coachable, and if they’re not going to work for the team, then I think you would rather have someone that is not as good of a player but a great team player and always puts the team first instead. It’s all about what you are trying to accomplish within your team.

# What is one trend you’ve seen over recent years with tryouts?

The game is changing all the time. People are looking for the biggest, fastest, strongest players now, which is not necessarily what I do, but I’ve seen a lot of clubs and teams do that. I‘ve seen other tryouts where they just have the kids race 20-40 yards and it seems like if you are the fastest kid out there you’re going to make the team whether you have any technical ability or not-I don’t agree with that but it seems like that’s how a lot of teams do it these days, just looking for the biggest fastest strongest kid.

# Do you have any advice for young coaches going through tryouts for the first time?

Try to have fun with it. Try not to get too stressed out. It is a stressful time, but understand that kids and parents are stressed out too and that sometimes emotions get the best of people. Relax and try to make the tryout fun. The parents are sitting there watching and the kids are playing and they are all stressed out, nervous, and scared-especially younger ages that have never been through tryouts. As a coach try to make it fun and get the kids to relax as much as possible because you only get to see what the players are really like and how good they are if they are relaxed and having fun. If they are scared, tense, and worried thinking, “If I have a bad touch right now, I’m going to get cut.” Then you aren’t going to get to see what they are like. The coach has to set the tone for the tryouts.

Thanks for the advice Coach!