As summer comes to an end, school volleyball is on the front burner of many minds. But for club directors, administrators and staff, club season is just around the corner. If you’re like me, you’re already devising practice plans and season expectations, staffing your teams, reviewing team budgets and preparing for the craziness that is tryouts (unless you have already gone through that madness!).

In the short time that I have been a club director, I’ve come up with four simple and effective ways to help manage the stress of tryout season.

1. Develop a tryout plan that works for you

This applies to evaluating athletes (skill work vs positional work) and also should align with what your priorities are as a club (ball control, offense, etc). Whether your club hosts a tryout with just a few athletes or you see over a hundred athletes in some age groups like we do, look to design drills and scrimmage situations to address the areas you feel strongest about. Allow time for all skills to be highlighted by the athletes on the court…and don’t forget live serving and passing. These two skills can provide the advantage you need when deciding between two athletes for the same spot!

2. Find people you trust who can be the “go to” people on your staff.

You can’t do this alone, so make sure you know what your needs are and find good people who have a similar vision to help you accomplish your goals for tryouts.

  • With the amount of athletes who attend our tryouts, I know I can’t be in as many places as I would like, so I always make sure I have a staff member who can run the gym and the timing of the tryout so that I can focus on parent talks and evaluation of athletes.
  • Make sure your evaluators know your goals for each age group for the season. While you may not totally agree with their assessments, it’s good to have multiple eyes on athletes and a difference of opinion, but the end goal should be the same when choosing athletes.
  • Know your court coaches strengths and use them in your tryout. If a coach isn’t the most controlled attacker, don’t put them on a defensive court hitting balls at the defenders. If a coach can toss well, use them for the middles or outsides during hitting lines. You want your gym to run smoothly and the athletes to feel like they had the best opportunity to showcase their skills!
  • Also included in our tryout staff are people who are managing the “off court” activities prior to, during and after sessions, such as late arrivals, paperwork, questions by parents (nervously) observing. Having these staff members in place allows me, as the Director, to be involved in pre and post tryout discussions, as well as preparations and/or tweaks for the upcoming session.
  • You and your entire staff should be approachable, personable and positive. While this is our philosophy as a club, it’s especially important during tryouts. Learning and using athletes’ names goes a long way instead of calling them by a number or “Hey you!”. Celebrating good plays with the athletes or encouraging athletes who may be struggling can also help the vibe of your tryout.

3.  Be honest.

Parents and athletes can be highly sensitive and/or emotional when an athlete doesn’t make the team they want. When they ask what they need to work on, give them details. No need to be harsh, but being direct is the best course of action. Of course, they may not agree, but skirting around the reasons won’t help you either.

4. Have fun and remember your “why”.

Most of us who are charged with running a club do it for the same reason – for the kids who want to get better at the sport we love. If you approach each tryout season knowing you are providing an environment that offers this opportunity, you’ll remember your “why”.

For related reading for club directors click HERE. For additional tryout resources (tryout plans, tips, evaluation tools), visit the JVA Member Resources and login.

About the Author

Jen Flynn Oldenburg is in her second season as Associate Director for Pittsburgh Elite. The club gained post season success again, sending 18 Elite to the USAV 18s Nationals in Dallas TX,  the 15 Elite and 16 Premier (t-20th) teams to the AAU Championships in Orlando, FL and 17 Elite to USAV Nationals in Minneapolis, MN. Jen is an alum of The Ohio State University, earning All Big Ten honors as both a setter and outside hitter. After her senior season, she went on to play with the United States Professional Volleyball team in Chicago, IL in 2000, then competed in the league for the Grand Rapids Force in 2002. In the summer of 2002, Jen was the starting setter for the USA National Team who won the silver medal in the World Championships held in Germany. In 2004, Jen joined the coaching staff at the University of Illinois. In her nine seasons as assistant coach, she helped the Illini return to the national spotlight. A member of three Sweet Sixteen teams as well as the National Finalist in 2011, Jen mentored eight All-Americans and 13 All-Big Ten selections.