Our league held tryouts for Challenge (travel) Teams for the first time in late May. It was definitely a learning experience, both for the league and the parents.

We fought hard to get affiliated with our state association at Level 2 which would allow us to have Challenge Teams. As our recreational program grew, we wanted to be able to have local teams that our better kids could move up to and face teams from other cities.

For those of you that don’t know – Challenge Team rosters are generally made up of kids who tryout and make the team. This was a whole new ballgame for us….

We have a great Challenge Coordinator who had coached Challenge teams before and knew how things should work. We lined up independent evaluators (local school coaches), set a date for tryouts, and got a set of 100 red and blue pinnies with 3 digit numbers on the back so the evaluators could easily track who was who.

We held tryouts for two days and had over 100 kids show up to tryout in a number of age groups. The first group of kids who started playing soccer with the MYSA at 4 years old are turning 9 (U10), so we expected a lower turnout. We were really excited to see a number of older kids who had played soccer elsewhere when they were younger turning out for tryouts as well. In the end we were able to form 7 teams of varying age and gender which was beyond our expectations.

The interesting thing was some of the concerns parents had and how they handled their first tryouts.

With recreational leagues – you sign up, you play. Tryouts were a whole new ballgame for parents. My wife and I were very nervous about our son trying out even though he had played well during the past season. We were not the only ones. As league officers we had to get the parents across the complex onto bleachers away from the tryout fields to avoid distracting the players. Many were very nervous. One interesting problem was getting the parents to understand how the tryouts worked. Many mistakenly thought that the coaches would pick the teams based on the evaluations and feared favoritism. We made sure that the evaluators ranked the kids and turned in their Top X players for each team. This took out any favoritism, but it took some doing to tamp down the rumor of ‘well that coach will just pick whomever he wants to’ It simply wasn’t true.

The other interesting situation revolved around a girl playing on a boys team. At a certain age level, we had a number of boys try out, but not enough girls to form a team. One girl was on fire during her tryout and the evaluators made clear she was one of the Top X players and should be included on the boys team if enough girls weren’t available for a girls team. So she made the boys team based solely on her skill level. However a few mother’s felt a girl shouldn’t have gotten a spot on the boys team! We were floored by that – it was completely unexpected. We didn’t think it required explanation, but in the end it did – that she made the boys team based on a gender neutral evaluation of soccer skill – plain and simple.

So overall things went very well and we are excited to have so many teams. Obviously, not everyone made the teams and there is always disappointment over that, but we tried to stress to our parents that every roster spot has to be tried out for every year. They are encouraged to tryout next year if they wish, etc. I expect as years go on and parents understand better what Challenge soccer is about and trust that our methods are designed to ensure the best teams are formed in the most objective manner, we won’t have even these few issues arise.

Now we’ll see how our teams do against much more established leagues in our region. It will be exciting! I know the league officers are excited about having our Challenge teams play at our local soccer complex so younger kids playing Recreational soccer can see what the older kids are doing – something to look up to. I’ll be sure to keep you all posted!
Oh and proud Dad/Coach plug, our eldest did make the team for his age group – he is very excited.