Much of the U.S. is about to enter tryout time for high school ball. Over the next few weeks, players will have the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and intangibles in the hopes of making the team of their choice.
For most, the preference will be making varsity because, well, that’s the top team and who doesn’t want to be the best? For some, however, it will be just getting on a team at all, or being placed on a team where they will have the opportunity to play for their school rather than cheer others on from the bench.
At this point there isn’t much players can do about their skills. Wherever they are now in their journeys is what they will take into tryouts.
There are some things they can do, however, to give themselves their best chance of making their desired team. While the best thing they can do is be amazing talented and proficient at softball, the type of player that can carry a team to a state title, very few are in that category. So here are a few tips for the rest.
Be On Time and Ready to Go
The simple act of being on time seems to be a lost art today.
That’s a shame, because in my book being late sends a message of “My time is more important than your time.” And since making a team relies on the judgment of the person to whom you’re sending that message, it automatically puts the player who’s trying out in the hole.
A good axiom to follow is “If you’re 15 minutes early you’re on time; if you’re on time you’re late.”
But there’s more to it than just being there. Players also want to make sure they have everything they need out and organized.
For example, if hitting is part of the tryout (and most likely it will be), they shouldn’t wait until it’s time to hit to dig their helmet out of their bat bags, dump out the old granola bar wrappers and find their batting gloves. Those items should already be out so they can be picked up whenever the coach sends them to the cage.
Being on time and ready helps players look like they know what they’re doing. All else being equal, it might be the deciding factor between varsity and JV, or being cut.
Don’t Wait to Be Asked to Show Every Skill
This is something I particularly talk to hitters about, but it’s important at every phase.
Take a hitter who can slug bunt (show a bunt then quickly pull back and slap the ball on the ground). While fastpitch softball has gone crazy for home runs there are still a lot of coaches who understand the value of the short game as well. Having a player who can draw a defense in and then slap the ball through the holes, potentially moving a runner from first to third or second to home would be attractive to many.
Yet the coaches evaluating the tryout won’t have any idea the player can do that unless she demonstrates it during hitting. If the coach doesn’t ask about it (and he/she probably won’t), it’s important for the player to say, “Would you like to see me slug bunt?” or whatever it’s called locally.
The same goes for pitchers. Often coaches will line up prospective pitchers and either use a radar or eyeball who throws the hardest and make decisions from there. So a player with good movement and deceptive speed changes but average speed won’t necessarily stand out.
It’s incumbent upon the pitcher to ensure the coach sees her other pitches. That will help separate her from the girls who throw as hard, or even harder, but can’t do anything else. A smart coach will understand the value of movement and speed changes.
Be Positive and Talkative
A big part of succeeding at tryouts is getting noticed. Now, if a high school player can pitch a legit 70 mph, or hit 300 foot bombs, it’s likely she will be noticed even if she’s as stone-faced and quiet as the Sphinx.
For those who don’t possess those superhuman skills, which is most players, they need to make more of a connection to the coaches and potential new teammates. One way to do that is to engage coaches and other players in conversation.
That doesn’t mean be a mindless chatterbox. But a little friendly conversation goes a long way toward showing what a great team member that player might be.
Even something as simple as, “Hi Coach, good to see you. How is your day going?” will help a player stand out from most of their peers. And if the decision comes down to a player who is pleasant and positive versus one who is quiet or a downer, with skill levels being equal, the coach is more likely to select the friendly one. That’s just human nature.
Try to Be First to Each Station
Coaches like players who hustle. One way to demonstrate that quality is by trying to be first to each station (if different stations are being used).
Say that the tryout players are broken into infielders, outfielders, and hitters, and each group is expected to rotate to all three stations. When the coach calls “switch,” the smart player will not walk or jog but will run to the next station.
Getting there first shows enthusiasm. Getting there not only first but a couple of minutes before everyone else helps demonstrate the type of hustle that every coach wants but rarely finds. If a player is on the bubble, showing hustle can be a key differentiator.
Wear Something Memorable
This tip probably isn’t so important in a small school where everyone pretty much knows everyone, coaches and players alike. But in a larger school with many players trying out for a few slots, it helps to stand out from the crowd.
That doesn’t mean wear something outrageous. A lot of coaches aren’t looking for “colorful” players.
But it does mean players should wear something that makes it easier to identify or recall them with. It could be neon green shoes, or regular shoes with neon green laces. It could be a Metallica t-shirt in a sea of travel team jerseys, or a big ol’ bow in a player’s hair. Anything that gives a coach an easy way to identify that player even if he/she doesn’t know the player’s name.
Of course, some people have built-in identifiers. If a player is the only redhead, or the only member of a particular race or ethnic group, or the only left hander, she’s going to stand out automatically.
For everyone else, find a way to make it easy for all the coaches to recall who the player is instantly.
Help Clean Up at the End
After a long day of tryouts everyone usually just wants to get out and go home. That’s understandable, but it does present another opportunity to win the tryout.
Odds are the group (or a group, such as freshmen) will be told to clean up and put things away. Most players will slop through the process as quickly as possible to get out.
Motivated players, however, can take this opportunity to not only pick things up but help ensure they are organized when they are put away. They may even have the opportunity to speak with the coach a bit while they are doing it.
Smart coaches are always looking for ways to improve team chemistry. Players who show they have that ability will be that much more attractive when it’s time to decide who stays and who goes – and who goes where.
Need the Goods
Of course, none of this makes a difference if the player isn’t very good to begin with. But for those whose fate is hanging in the balance, going that extra mile as laid out here might just make the difference and help them get on the bus. What they do from there is up to them.
Clock photo by Stas Knop on Pexels.com
Clown [hoto by Nishant Aneja on Pexels.com
Sphinx photo by Rene Asmussen on Pexels.com