One of the hardest things about being a high school coach is selecting and rejecting players during tryouts. Generally speaking, many more players tryout for a team than can actually fit on the final roster. It is the job of the coach to figure which of those players are physically and mentally able to fill the various roles on the team. It’s not an easy job, but somebody’s got to do it.

Usually there are roughly three tiers of players who tryout for a high school athletic team. There are the studs, the role players, and the bench players. The studs are the players who both the other players and the coaches know will be big contributors to the team. They’re the players the team will turn to when its in a tough situation. The role players are the players who regularly contribute to the team, but don’t necessarily shine in every situation. The team wouldn’t work without the role players, and they help fill out the game-day roster. The bench players are the players who seldom participate in competition. These players often imitate upcoming opponents during practices, and serve the important role of helping the studs and role players be fully prepared for their upcoming competitions. While starkly different, each of the three tiers play an important role in team development, team chemistry, and team success.

Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly depending on your perspective), the bench players often provide coaches with the most difficulty during tryouts. A coach is usually aware of the studs and role players before tryouts role around. Many more questions revolve around the talent and abilities of the bench players. Allow me to use a hypothetical example from the sport I coach, lacrosse. There is only one spot left on the roster, and as the coach you must select one of these three players. Bench player X is very quick, but he is somewhat uncoordinated and his ball-handling is suspect at best. Bench player Y is a competent ball-handler, but lacks speed and vision. Bench player Z is big and strong, but he has a bad temper with a history of fighting opposing players. Who would you select from among those three players? It’s not so simple, is it? The coach will become a hero to the player who fills the final roster spot, while becoming a villain for the two players who do not make the cut.

As such, tryouts are a heart-wrenching time for both players and coaches. So many variables go into team selection, and almost all of them come from observation and corroboration. Unfortunately that means most player selections are completely subjective, but that is the reality of assessment in sports.

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