Trying Out

I tried out for the Danbury High School golf team as a sophomore.  It was as fair and clear cut as a try-out can be.  Everyone played nine holes of golf and they eight lowest scores made the team.  I didn’t make the team.  My son, Bryson Pink, completed his seventh try out this week making the Orlando City U-16 Academy as a developmental player.

Soccer try-outs are inherently subjective.  The game does not lend itself to statistical objectivity.   Players are seperated by subtle positioning, touch on the ball, spatial awareness and mental pace of play as much as by any physical characteristic of size or speed.  The balance between these talents varies by player, and can be obscured in the absence of surrounding talent.  The inbalance of these same talents is invariably exposed in the company of substantial talent. 

Any ostensibly open try-out will draw the interest of many players lacking the requisite talent not just to make the team, but to simply function in a manner that does not lower the level of play as a whole.  From the perspective of the coaching staff, it is imperative that these players are isolated from the players having a legitimate chance to make the team. 

Try-outs are not conducted in a vacuum.   Players are scouted, identified and recruited in advance.  Any coaching staff worth a damn knows not only their own team, but players of significance on other teams.  Much of the team will be selected before the first ball is kicked.  The quality and nature of the core defines the style ofnplay, and the type of players that should complete the roster.  On the margins of the team, the staff must place similar players in direct competition to assess their competitive qualities,  and alternately place them together to determine their cohesiveness.

In this process, it is critical to learn the player’s body language.  How does he handle adversity and success?  Is he coachable or an incorrigible individualist?  Does he interact with the group and give it something intangible?  Is he intelligent , stubborn, or a savant of sorts?

Finally, how do the pieces fit together?  The group must be balanced and predisposed to a manner of play.  Although fluid, there must be some basic outline of roles that encompasses a long view of the season.  Players without a role or sightly lesser duplicates of the number one will be difficult to play, and ultimately lead to a disruption of the team.  It is better to cut these players at the outset than be a prisoner to their discontent later.

It is an imperfect process at best, and unbearable when skewed by political considerations.  It has struck me with considerable pride that Bryson’s try-out experiences have been largely favorable, and seldom has he been the hand-picked political favorite.  It is a gross overstatement to say he is self-made.  I have spent enough hours on deserted fields fending off shots and chasing balls to ignore the contributions of his other coaches…Ivo, Richie, Scott, Alan and Mike, but I have also seen him do this enough to respect his preparation, poise and understanding of the process.

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