By Ruth Nicholson

I had 3-4 questions I would ask every coach for whom my two sons tried out. I simply HATED tryout season – more than tax season – more than any other time of year. I detested the stress and insanity around it all, particularly where we live. Clubs would vie for players by scheduling multiple tryouts in a day and over a weekend which resulted in players attending more tryouts in a weekend than they would play games at an intense tournament.

Clubs would often demand that players attend every one of their tryouts to have a shot at a team, too – which could be up to three tryouts in less than a week. How can a player stay fresh and show his/her best in that type of situation?

Did I mention that I HATE tryout season?

So I came up with my own interview for coaches who might become coaches for my kids. Quite frankly, I was seriously less invested in the club as compared to finding a good coach for my sons.

The questions:

  1. What is your player development philosophy? This question was sometimes phrased a bit differently. The idea was to get an idea of the coach’s training approach, as well as his/her goals for the team and what s/he wanted the players to learn and accomplish over the course of the playing season or playing year. The answer to the question helped me gauge the coach’s approach and how it stacked up with the development of my own kids, as well as the balance between learning and win-at-all-costs.
  1. What are your expectations for your players? The point of this question had to do with personal responsibility for my sons and with how much work would be expected at team events (practices and games) as compared to homework or other outside-the-team training.
  1. What are your expectations for your parents? I expected the answer to this question to change and evolve as my sons grew older and took on more responsibility for communicating directly with their coaches – and I supported and pushed my players to talk directly to their coaches at an early age. I was the back-up communication system. The answer to this question also gave me a clue to how a particular coach viewed parents. I valued coaches who could articulate expectations for parents and saw a partnership between the adults in supporting players. As a professional facilitator, I could tell when a coach simply wanted to coach orphans as compared to someone who wanted a real partnership to support players.
  1. For teams with a serious competitive bent, like higher level premier teams or travel teams, I would also ask: How do your players earn playing time? This actually stemmed from a seriously awful experience from one of my sons. I decided that I should ask what the criteria was so that expectations would be clear. The assumption behind this question is that all players would not receive equal playing time and that these teams have an internal competitive environment. Again, the answer to this question told me something about the coach’s player development approach and how s/he viewed the balance between developing players and a win-at-all-costs mentality.

For the most part, coaches were surprised that I was interviewing them. One coach took the time to write me an incredibly long email with detailed answers to each of the questions. My son played for him, and it was a good experience for all of us. Other coaches struggled with the answers. Some tried to hide their sense of offense that I would even ask. I made sure NEVER to lobby for my son in asking the questions because the purpose was information-gathering, not showing off my son’s skills. He had to do that on the tryout field.

Oh yeah, and the only thing I ever yell on the sidelines of a soccer field is “YOU CAN DO IT!”…….but that is another story. Yes, there is always a story……..

Go for it!

Ruth Nicholson, CPF, MPA is the Principal of Nicholson Facilitation & Associates, a woman-owned consultancy offering services in organizational development, facilitation, conflict resolution, training, and professional assessment. The firm’s Youth Sports Services provide training and custom consulting to strengthen club operations and enhance coaching effectiveness. Ruth is an internationally certified facilitator and instructor who has worked in soccer governance and administration for over 25 years. She offers a portfolio in soccer operations that includes strategic planning, volunteer programs, board operations, club administration, and tournament, camp, and stadium management. She has also worked as a coach, referee, and referee assigner. Ruth is the Executive Advisor for Training and Consulting for Soccer Office and a contributing specialist in the Changing the Game Project’s Coaching Mastery course. She is also an invited speaker at the US Youth Soccer Leadership Development Symposium, National Soccer Coaches Association of America convention, and US Youth Soccer Workshop.

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