During basketball season, tryouts typically last between a few hours to a week. Tryouts for some elite teams may consist of multiple stages and take place over the course of several weeks. Although assessment and evaluation are important throughout the season, recruiting and tryouts necessitate that the coach thoroughly plan, critically analyze and purposefully execute throughout the entire process.

Talent is Paramount

Talent matters. While coaching Michael Jordan in preparation for the 1984 Olympics, Bobby Knight was asked by the Portland Trail Blazers whether they should draft the guard Jordan or the centre Sam Bowie. Knight said that the team should take Jordan. Portland replied that they needed someone to play centre. Knight told them to draft Jordan and play him as the centre.

Coaches who do not recruit thoroughly or correctly evaluate their team will be placed at a severe disadvantage. A coach can only call five timeouts and if a small, average dribbling guard is consistently trapped by larger players, it will be a long game. Even if a player is a late-entry athlete with limited experience or more athletic abilities than technical skills, a coach should evaluate that player thoroughly and consider adapting their plan to suit the needs of this talent.

Effective Planning

Effective planning is critical for practices or lessons. Make the best use of everyone’s team by giving each moment a purpose ahead of time. Reinforce that every moment (ballhandling, pressuring the ball, cutting, passing, boxing out, loose balls, drills, games, decorum, communication, leadership, etc.) counts.


Determine what you want, first of all. Pre-tryout meetings with other coaches afford an opportunity to ensure that everyone is on the same page and understands the head coach’s goals. Pre-tryout meetings with players afford an opportunity to publicize precise expectations.


All tryout participants come to the event with different perspectives. Fairness is relative: whether it’s between a teacher and student after a test or a coach and official after a late call, everyone has their own opinion. When the process concerns coaches, organizers, stars, and scrubs, it’s even more complicated. And then parents are introduced to the mix.


The goal should be to assess the players and name the best team possible. Not only should all players have a fair chance to make the squad, they should perceive that they have had a fair chance. This is not to say that coaches must cater to endless subjectivity; appearing knowledgeable, clear, and concise will prevent most reasonable complaints in advance.

Modeling the Way

If coaches demand consistent execution then they should also model the way, exemplifying coaching skill and organization, and high standards. If drills are not demonstrated at game speed, randomly shouting “game speed!” will not improve quality of play.

Shut drills down if fundamentals slip. Since tournaments will be won by tough defence and team offence, encourage complete effort with or without the ball.


In the United States, 1.7% of all basketball players reach the college level and only 0.0001% play in the Association. But parents still have high expectations and may pressure players and coaches. Coaches should always deal with players and parents in an even-keeled way (with documentation).

Working Together

Parents believe that when they intervene and micro-manage the situation, they empower their children but this excessive adult involvement actually eliminates opportunities for social learning.

Sport can be a source of confidence and a chance to grow and teach. Some players by definition will be excluded when the team is selected, parents and coaches should co-operate so that nobody needlessly drops out of sport or forgoes self-actualization.

Clear and Concise

Limit explanations to the essentials and deliver complicated instructions in stages. The stress of tryouts affects the players’ memories. Furthermore, they aren’t at the college level yet and have enough trouble itemizing their social life, school, and Facebook in their heads before introducing complicated basketball stuff.

First Impression

Parents’ perception is limited by the fact that they are sitting in a balcony or standing on the sideline. Yet they are constantly making judgments. To deal with first impression bias, appear professional, be decisive, and stick to the schedule. From that point, research indicates that people will look to confirm their preconceptions.

Second Chances

If players feel that they have been unjustly cut, I allow them to state their case. If they convinced me with their words, I allow them to try and convince me with their actions on the court. If I am honestly wrong, I will amend my decision. Some coaches feel that this is a sign of weakness but it means that I am not going to stubbornly hold on to an incorrect opinion. Some players have convinced me to give them a second chance but a rare few over the past dozen years have earned a spot on the time via this process.

Making Cuts

Cuts can be a positive or negative experience. Accompanied by the right message and specific suggestions for improvement, cutting a young player can inspire determination and subsequent growth, like the oft-repeated story of how Michael Jordan was cut from the Wilmington High School J.V. team.

Players deserve to be spoken to privately, given the effort that they put forth at the tryouts. During these sessions, coaches can tell team members where they stand and what they must do to get better. Cuts can be made discreetly and the players given detailed comments followed by a chance to ask questions. All players deserve respectful non-judgemental objective feedback.

Coaches should never read a public list of cuts. Players may feel embarrassed or resentful. Until the first team practice, players should only focus on what they can control: their personal performance. When numbers are high, assistant coaches can help the head coach speak with each player individually.


The game is changing and effective tryouts – generated by goal-setting, effective planning, clear communication, and fairness – are critical to properly identifying and developing talent. As Mulder and Scully said: “The Truth is Out There.”