By Quinn Casteel
Leesburg, Va. – Monday evening marked the beginning of the second and final week of tryouts for Loudoun Soccer and its band of travel teams for the 2012-2013 seasons, as coaches from both girls and boys divisions ranging from Under-9 to U-19 go through the meticulous process of deciding their final rosters for the upcoming year.
The organized chaos that is the Loudoun Soccer tryouts takes place almost entirely at the recently-built Phillip A. Bolen Memorial Park, a year-old facility in Leesburg which holds six full-sized soccer fields, four softball fields, a total of five baseball fields and two football/lacrosse fields. At any given time during a night of tryouts, all six soccer fields will be occupied by as many as five different age groups and a near 50-50 split of boys and girls teams.
The tryouts consist of constant free-flowing scrimmages with coaches and evaluators standing along the sidelines and on the fields taking notes on clipboards and talking amongst themselves. Posted signs with the words “Players and Coaches Only” provide a barrier to the playing fields, keeping all potential distractions from parents, friends and family members away from the athletes.
With more than 1,600 players registered to try out this summer, a 400-450 person jump from last year, according to the organization’s technical director Darryl Gee, the program is more competitive than it has ever been. More competition means tougher decisions for the coaches, as well as a tougher road for the players looking to make the final cuts.
“The most important thing is you only have an hour and a half to show the coaches what you have,” said Randy May, a U-16 girls coach at Loudoun Soccer as well as the club’s Director of College Placement. “It’s not a time to be passive; it’s a time to be aggressive and it’s a time to show your skills.
“As a former player and coach who has been to many tryouts, you know that you only get one shot and it’s what you do with that one shot that will help you in the long run,” added May, who also coaches at Stone Bridge High School.
The Loudoun Soccer tryouts are somewhat unusual in that each year every player, regardless of how long they have been in the program, is required to attend tryouts and once again prove they belong on the team. Most of the teams have a core group of players that will end up playing together for several if not many years in a row, but the policy of requiring everyone to try out has instilled a culture of fairness that gives everyone an even shot at making a roster.
“The way we look at it, the slate is wiped clean and we start from scratch and pick the players that fall into the structure of the travel program,” Gee told The Soccer Wire. “However, the players that have been here before have an added advantage because they’re a little more comfortable in the situation and they know what the coaches are looking for. The players that are here for the first time have a tendency to be a little nervous and that may show during the tryout process.”
As technical director, Gee and his colleagues in the Loudoun Soccer offices have been preparing for the tryouts for the past three months. Gee, Director of Coaching Mark Ryan, Director of Girls Player Development RaeAnn Taylor and the rest of the staff have been meeting with specific committees to work on such tasks as coordinating times and logistics, organizing age groups, assigning coaching staffs and evaluators, scheduling practices and getting tryout shirts with unique numbers for each one of the 1,600-plus participants.
“It’s very important, especially when you’re dealing with such an increase in numbers, to have plenty of stuff done to improve and enhance the programs that we have within our travel program,” said Gee. “The most important thing I can do right now is give the necessary support to Mark Ryan and the travel program, and also to give [Loudoun’s Director of Player Development] Dave Scruggs the support to the rec program to ensure they have all the necessary resources to run a successful organization.”
“Everyone here comes out every night to help each other,” added Taylor. “We’re setting fields up, evaluating players, anything they need. And we’re managing with just eight or nine people.”
This season, Loudoun Soccer’s travel program has joined forces with its rec program and become one cohesive entity, which Gee and Ryan agreed is a major reason participation numbers have skyrocketed. At the U-16 boys tryout on Monday, a team coached by Ryan, the scrimmages took up two fields at Bolen Park and there was still an overflow of players waiting to be rotated into the action at all times. However, most of those players had already been in the system, and were simply waiting to find out which of the three teams at that age group they would be appointed to. U-16 boys is such a crowded age group that it fields a “Red,” a “Black” and a “White” team, listed in order of highest to lowest-ranking divisions. Ryan estimated that only about 20 percent of the tryout participants in the age group were completely new to the Loudoun Soccer system.
“As we get older, there are less new players coming in,” Ryan explained. “At this age group, with guys going into their sophomore year in high school, to have three competitive teams in this age group is great. It means a lot of kids are playing soccer and we have a lot of great players in our program.”
Conversely, on the younger side the mass of players contains a lot more fresh faces than familiar ones. Age groups such as U-9 and U-10 have drawn more than 100 participants each on both the boys and girls sides, as they seek to begin what they hope will be long careers in the Loudoun Soccer travel program. The turnout has been so high in the younger age groups that Loudoun Soccer has added a third day of tryouts for all age groups from the U-9s to the U-12s in the girls and boys divisions, in comparison to the standard two sessions for the older groups.
“It’s just numbers, but we also don’t always know those players as well, and sometimes they have a tendency to be more nervous,” said Ryan on the younger age groups. “Sometimes, because of the nerves you’ll throw a tryout out so it’s nice to have the extra day.”
Tryouts for Loudoun Soccer continue each night this week, ending on Friday, which is the final day for the U-18/U-19 93G Red team, the highest level of girls soccer in the organization. Thursday through Saturday will also play host to any rainout dates, which are likely to occur with rain in the forecast on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Editor’s note: Do you have stories or experiences to share from your child’s or club’s tryouts process? Please share them with us by sending an email to email@example.com!