Tryouts season: How Prince William Soccer handles the youth game’s toughest ritual
By Charles Boehm
Tryouts: They’re a time for hope, excitement and – hopefully – overcoming nerves to put your best foot forward.
It’s that time of year again, as many spring seasons around the country wind towards their conclusion and both parents and youth soccer coaches begin to plan for next season. The next two months will be packed with tryout dates at clubs across the Mid-Atlantic and beyond, and many families will attempt to get their young players to as many of them as humanly possible.
For Northern Virginia club Prince William Soccer, Inc., this year’s spring tryouts are a chance to identify and gather their region’s top talent, a goal which inevitably adds a competitive edge (just check out the rock-fueled promo video below).
But they’re also an important step in the individual growth and improvement of the players. That’s probably a prime reason PWSI have made them a debut of sorts for new director of youth development Quan Phan, who will play a leading role in the tryouts process.
The veteran coach and trainer readily acknowledges the difficulties on both sides.
“From a coach’s perspective, the hardest part of tryouts is making sure that you get the opportunity to see players play more than once,” he told SoccerWire.com via email this week. “Sometimes kids have good days, sometimes they have bad days.
“The problem is that there are so many choices (with different clubs) for players, so they stretch themselves thin trying to make it to as many different club tryouts as possible. In turn, coaches do not get maximum exposure to the players.”
Phan joins PWSI from Braddock Road Youth Club, where he served for nearly a decade, most recently in the role of academy director for the Under-9 and U-10 boys and girls programs. He also coached the successful BRYC 98 Elite boys group which won the Virginia State Cup and Region I championships in 2011 and took top spot in last year’s Region I Colonial League, among other honors.
“I feel that that group was extremely successful due to the players’ and parents’ commitment to player development at the younger ages,” said Phan. “Players and parents understood the importance of player development over winning.
“All of the other successful teams [at BRYC] also valued player development over winning and chasing trophies. When players dedicate themselves to establishing a solid technical foundation, it is much easier to find success when they get older,” he added.
Phan’s new colleague Ken Krieger, the PWSI coach who has built one of the region’s strongest youth coaching resumes over his long career, believes player should view tryouts as a celebration, not an ordeal – a chance to show off the hard work they’ve done over the prior months.
“It’s basically a simple math problem. If you need to be better, you have to work with the ball every day,” Krieger said. “Some of the things that I have asked them to do: Hit a wall, a park bench – hit the ball hard 100 times, three times a day. That’s just simple homework … You can tell the players [apart]: When you go to a soccer match, do they make it look easy? Those are the ones that are technically sound. Those are the players where the ball is not the problem.”
Phan’s arrival has PWSI executive director Mike Yeatts feeling quite bullish about his club’s technical expertise, and perhaps hopeful that this latest round of tryouts can be the springboard for a strong step forward during the 2013-14 seas.
“I think we have the region’s top coaching staff,” Yeatts told SoccerWire.com. “Our focus is on player development, and if you take a look at our ODP [Olympic Development Program] numbers, we had 55 kids make the VYSA state ODP teams this year. We had a half-dozen make the Region 1 team, and two make youth national teams.
“It’s incredibly difficult,” said Yeatts of the tryouts process. “We want to make sure that are able to take as a good a look as possible at every kid so they get every chance to make one of our teams.”
Yeatts explained that PWSI stresses the principles of diversity and openness – “We are extremely proud of the diverse population we have,” he said – in terms of its membership and coaching staff, and tryouts are no exception. The club seeks to connect with all quarters of the county’s multicultural population, including Spanish-speaking families and those of limited means.
PWSI’s tryouts open with U-9 sessions on May 21 and 23 at Chinn Park in Woodbrige, Va., while older age groups follow in late May and the first week of June at Woodbridge’s Howison Park.
Phan offers a final bit of advice for those preparing to prove themselves – a message that might seem obvious, but is well worth emphasizing.
“Tryouts always bring the nerves out of some players,” he said. “My best advice for young players is to go out to tryouts with a positive outlook, play your best, and most importantly to have fun playing the game. You will not play well if you’re not having fun!”