What Are Coaches Really Looking for at Tryouts?

Tryouts for fall sports will be here in a month! What is going to make an athlete stand out at the try-outs and get them a spot on the team?

To get the inside scoop, we asked one of the winningest coaches in High School Ice Hockey history. With 3 state championships in the last 4 years, and 7 in the last decade, it’s hard to dispute that he knows how to field (ice?) a team! When posed the question, he was quick to group the skills he seeks at try-outs into three categories. I’ve summarized his answers below and covered how to address them in an Athletic Strength & Conditioning Program such as CLM’s new Unrivaled Sports Performance.

1.  Explosiveness and Power

This is about how much jump a kid has which comes down to his quick twitch muscle strength. Power is an extremely important characteristic to develop in any sport, especially at a young age. Athletes who have well-developed skills (hand-eye coordination and player awareness) but lack explosive power will not make a huge impact at tryouts or during gametime situations. Athletes who have quick reaction times with lateral and linear explosive power will stand out more during tryouts. Coaches will put the quicker athletes on their team.

How to address explosiveness in a Strength & Conditioning Program: For a sport-specific program, explosiveness, or power, is the first element that should be addresses. Power is where it all starts. You have to be able to move quicker than your opponent at any angle or from any stance. Working through sport-specific power development movements will greatly increase your performance at your sport of choice. I use ½ kneeling medicine side toss, depth jump – broad jump, and various contrast drills to substantially increase an athlete’s explosiveness.

2.  Quickness and Agility

Have you ever faced an athlete who was quicker than you were? Being able to move quicker than your opponent in any direction, and when changing direction, will greatly increase your performance. This is different than power, as it is the next element after the “take-off.” Quick reaction time isn’t the only factor when it comes to speed in any given sport, but agility plays a role as well. Having excellent footwork will increase your ability to perform movements in different stances including increased linear/lateral power and speed development. This ability will stand out in the crowd at tryouts and in games.

How to address speed in a Strength & Conditioning Program: With most strength & conditioning programs, there is most likely always a warm-up, followed by speed/agility, power, strength and finishing with conditioning drills. With any sport, speed is everything. Being able to move linearly and/or laterally with proper form will take you to the next level. Working on speed development drills during practice will obviously increase your speed but that won’t get better unless there is some sort of agility involved. Speed and agility go hand-in-hand which is why it’s important to work both. I like to work this athletic trait with pro-agility, mini hurdle jump cuts, and numerous agility ladder drills.

3.  Strength and Conditioning

Conditioning is important in every sport. If an athlete is easily winded playing time is reduced. This decreases their value to a team. Having strength plays a big factor as well. If you can get to the ball or puck first but don’t have the strength to control it, or are easily knocked off it, then that’s wasted energy and probably a turnover. Having sport specific strength will greatly increase your chance to get recognized and ultimately selected during tryouts, if done correctly. Increasing repetitions while partnering it with speed development and power movement will build endurance as well as your base strength.

How to address this in a Strength & Conditioning Program: In a good strength and conditioning program, there are progressions and regressions with any movement. For an athlete that is a natural at the basic moves, the coach can make it more difficult tailoring the program to that specific athlete. For an athlete that cannot perform the movements correctly yet, the coach will provide a regressed version tailoring it to their needs. This will create more of an individualized program, allowing each athlete to get stronger, increase their conditioning, and become overall a better athlete. I like to work this athletic trait with simple sport specific unilateral strength movements such as lateral bounds, split squat variations, and ½ kneeling push-pull movements.


When it comes to being the best at your sport, there are many sport-specific traits that will greatly increase your ability to perform better. For example, in soccer, you need to have excellent foot-eye coordination to excel. On top of that, you’ll need to have a great understanding on how to move with the ball. For swimming & diving, you’ll need to have excellent reaction times to explode off the starting block or perform complicated timed dives. In the sports performance program, there are drills that will test the athlete every session to push them to that next level so when it comes to try-outs, games, and matches, their performance will keep excelling.

Meanwhile, agility, power, speed, strength and conditioning come into play in all competitive sports. There are many drills and movements that athletes can perform that will help them develop these traits for multiple sports; such as cone drills (agility), box jump (power), squats (strength) and 40 yard dash (conditioning and speed). That just names a few, where any program worth your time and money should have enough of these to keep a young athlete engaged and excited for the entire session!

If you are seeking a Strength and Conditioning Program just for young athletes, Click here to learn more about the UNRIVALED Sports Performance at CLM.

Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions you have about functional training or improving your (or your child’s) athletic performance while protecting against sports injuries!