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Unearthing Hidden Gems in Tryouts

Identifying the superstar in tryouts is easy. What can separate an average team from a great one are the hidden gems, the players who might not stand out in tryouts but who bring the skills and intangibles that will put your team over the hump down the stretch. So how do you find them?

Dan Tarr, the softball coach at Brooke Point High School in Virginia, has some ideas.

“We look for those who primarily possess good athletic ability,” he said. “From there, you hope you can teach them the skills specific to the sport they’re playing.”

But there are some qualities that can’t be measured properly within the fixed environment of a single tryout — the intangibles that make scouting talent, especially on the high school level, a difficult endeavor.

For instance, how does the player handle a pressure situation? The burden of simply being good enough to make a team can be stressful alone, but game competition is a far different element. Facing a late-inning at-bat or a last-second free throw is something that can’t be simulated elsewhere.

Predicting this future can be determined in those tryouts. For example, if a player is so stressed about making the team that their play is affected, it may be a harbinger of how he or she will do when there are actual games to be won or lost.

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Still, understanding the psyche of a high schooler you don’t know much about can range from difficult to impossible. And when it comes to 15-, 16- or 17-year-old kids, personality, maturity and self-confidence can vary significantly. 

“Every year, we see talented players, but we don’t know much about (them),” Tarr said. “How are they going to fit in? That’s a great challenge.”

When faced with adversity or a prolonged struggle, does the player atone for the slump by working harder or instead compound it with additional mistakes and, worse, a lack of desire?

“Since tryouts take place over the course of a few days, coaches get to see both strengths and weaknesses,” Tarr said. “Some are adversely effected and you notice their mindset change, some are unfazed. It’s a small sample size, but it’s mostly a good indication of their fortitude over the course of a long season.”

No one makes it on talent alone. A star pitcher might look spectacular in a tryout — showcasing as much potential as ability. However, if he or she has no want to improve in the future, that growth is stunted.

“Everyone is on their best behavior (during tryouts),” Tarr said. “It takes a few practices for you to see some of the flaws. Then you just try to work with them and help develop.”

The best evaluators aren’t the ones who can just see the talent. They are the ones who can gain the most knowledge of the player’s attitude and work ethic — to understand how he or she might handle both fortune and misfortune.

From GameChanger and Brian Wright.

Softball, Softball Player Development