Coach’s Corner: How to Build the Best Team at Tryouts

by omni

A good tryout is crucial to a good year. It not only sets the tone for the season, but it also sets the standard for your entire team. Besides all of that, there’s the obvious: it selects your cheerleading team for you, and we all know how important having a strong team is. If you’re a cheer coach, here are a few ways to get what you need out of your tryouts process: Don’t Reinvent the Wheel Unless You Need To I used to constantly be freaking out at tryouts time. The new part of the year always leaves me feeling like I have to start over from scratch, but that’s just silly. The reality is that I’ve now been through tryouts many times, and I know what works for me. So I’m not going to reinvent the wheel each year.Now, planning tryouts is easy. However, there was a time when a complete overhaul was necessary. So the best thing to do is start now to plan out everything and keep great notes. That way next year you can tweak what didn’t work and keep what did. If you don’t know where to start, then try this free video training. It gives you the rundown of all the moving parts of tryouts, plus checklists and templates to get you started. Communicate Often I cannot stress enough the importance of communication. As a coach who also works in corporate communication, I can say with confidence that good communication gets you everywhere. So be thorough and clear in early communication and send out lots of reminders, but don’t chase people down. This will be a good indicator of the parents and cheerleaders you’ll need to communicate more with during the year.It’s also a great time to encourage them to communicate with you. Answer questions, be helpful, and be generous when they reach out. That will be a great start to a relationship if the athlete makes the team. Help Them Make an Informed Decision My first year of coaching, I had no idea what to say at a parent meeting for tryouts. I was just ready to tell them what a wonderful year we were going to have. “We’re going to cheer at games and go to nationals, and they will love it! It’s so much fun!” (Yep, lots of exclamation marks!) That was kind of my battle cry, but it was also kind of my undoing that year.By mid-season, a girl had a concussion, two others had quit, and one parent was not even a little happy with what cheerleading was costing her. They were all unhappy because I had failed to communicate exactly what they were signing up for. I wanted it to be shiny and happy so everyone would want to be a cheerleader. I should’ve given clear expectations and outlined the year for them better through my original communication. That way they could have made an informed decision, and we would have all been much happier whether or not we were a part of the squad. Include a Way to Hear About Their Character There’s more to building a great team than skill alone. One year, I had a team full of incredibly talented young ladies. The potential of their skills was almost limitless. But I hardly saw any of it after tryouts. They were talented, but they didn’t want to work for it. Their motto was, “We’ll hit it when we perform. We always do.”I don’t know about you, but that kind of attitude drives me bananas. I would rather have a squad full of teachable, untalented girls than one full of hard work-phobic, skilled ones, and I now know that about myself. If you know what kind of people you want to work with to create a strong team, build something into your process that will show those characteristics — interviews, teacher recommendations, teammate evaluations, or something else. Depending on your process, you may still end up with a handful of cheerleaders with the wrong attitude, but they’ll probably follow the lead of the rest of the team. Have Qualified Judges for Your Type of Process It doesn’t matter what type of process you have for team selection, if you have bad judges, you won’t get the team the process was designed for.One year, we hired a company that hires judges for you and sends them to your tryout. We had used our same process for a couple of years with great results, so we were really excited for another tryout day. But it turns out one judge didn’t actually know anything about cheerleading. She was a dancer, which is fine, mostly — after all, my secret, unfulfilled desire is to be a dancer — but when stunting is a part of your tryout, she had no clue what to do with that and messed up all of the scoring, leaving everything confused. So make sure that whether you do team placements or a tryout that cuts, you want to hire judges that can really help you find the team you need across the board. Handle the Results with Grace on Both Ends I think dealing with the results of the tryout is often the hardest part. When the girl that you’ve lovingly shepherded for two years gets injured at the end of the season but tries out anyway with little practice, it breaks your heart to see her without a place on your team. I’m tearing up now just thinking about that. But for the day of tryouts and the day you announce and celebrate, it’s not about her. It’s about your new team. So keep it positive for that time.I would also encourage you to not let those who didn’t make it contact you until the next week. It gives a little room for perspective for you both. When they do call, be calm and listen. Often they’re just hurting and want to know someone cares that they didn’t make the team. You can even let them see their scores for improvement next year, but don’t let them see anyone else’s. And never discuss someone’s scores or tryout with anyone else. Tryouts season is a crazy time, but you can find peace in the process if it’s one you believe in. So this year, make your tryouts work for you and build the team you’ve always wanted. Coaches: access videos, how-tos, and more at

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