It is the start of the Trial Season in Grass Roots


So with the Grass Roots Season nearly over clubs are already starting to look to next season and with this anticipation comes the prospect of the trials.  Due to the many formats in mini soccer and youth football, 5 a side, 7 a side, 9 a side and 11 a side nearly every year clubs need to attract more players and add to their squads.  Some do by joining teams together, some through referrals and some through dare I say it poaching, and some through trials.

Having had a number of parents ask me recently when I am holding my trials for my U10 mini soccer teams I have started to question the use of trials.  The parents have looked at me kind of strange when I state that I don’t hold trials, even though I reason that “what can I learn about my players in a few hours that I don’t already know.”  Anyway it seems I am certainly in the minority on this one so I have started to question myself, perhaps I am missing a trick here?

I have therefore posted on Twitter and Facebook the question who is holding trials and why?  I have had very little answer to this but those that have answered have generally supported my original thoughts in that, it is what we have always done when we need new players.

This got me thinking even more about the trial process and my thoughts on talent identification as a whole.

The top clubs in the world spend millions and millions of Pounds/Euros every year on talent identification attempting to bring the best and most gifted children into their academies.  Whilst there are some success stories I think we can say that as a whole the academy system has not been a raging success in identifying giftedness and nurturing it into talented adult performers.  So with this in mind how can Grass Roots Coaches be expected to perform any better and thus if this is the case are trials of any benefit at all?

In my experience a trial at a grass roots club usually takes 1-3 weeks with coaches watching a number of games.  This is a very small snapshot of performance at a given moment in time.  It neither confirms the players giftedness over a pro-longed period  nor does it give much indication of the opportunity to develop into talent.  In many cases (I would actually say most) it is simply an illustration of that person’s maturity at that given time and thus possibly effectiveness as a player not giftedness.

I am often asked by parents, spectators and other coaches do you have any potential superstars, or who do you think is going to make it. My answer is always the same “I have not got a clue, too difficult to say”. What I would say though is that if I was picking a player who might make it I would not be just looking at their ability today but instead at a number of social and psychological & environmental factors.

Daniel Coyle’s Thoughts:

Looking deeper into the trial process it is clear that lots of clubs use the ‘trial’ as another word for an open day to welcome children to their club and as aforementioned to attract players where there is a deficiency in playing numbers.  If they attract too many they try to accommodate them but all too often there is a finite level of resources, but still help the children find other clubs. But then there are some clubs it appears use the trial in the true sense of the word even as young as U6/7/8.  Every year they start a fresh and each player must trial again for their right to play in the team and children from across the region trial for places in the ‘top clubs’ with promises being made to entice them.

This throws up even more questions, what are they looking for, what are the motives, what are the long term goals, for whose benefit is this?  Research into children’s motives in participating in sport are very clear – enjoyment, fun, learning new skills, being with their friends. So does this trial process support the research findings of why children participate in sport or run contrary to it?

As the trial process is simply a glimpse of performance and as a result of non-linear and fast changing development patterns of children what happens next season when the promising young player may not be so much quicker than his peers, is no longer the strongest player on the park or has hit a growth spurt and lost co-ordination.  Will he lose out in the trial process to the next batch of trialists and can no longer play football with his friends or work with the coach he has built the relationship with? Therefore is the trialing of young children just a conveyor belt where at the beginning of each season the perceived most able children are brought in at the expense of others?

As the result of this process often culminates in positive on field performances it can therefore be seen as a successful way to conduct recruitment of children to Grass Roots Teams. But could this actually be viewed as poor process good result (or poor process good short term result).  There is after all a greater responsibility on coaches other  than to win more games than you lose and this needs to be kept in mind at every step when working with the youngest age groups.

Having thought long and hard about the trial process I have decided against it for me my teams. For me it just does not fit in with my philosophy and the reasons why I coach at the 7-11 age group but I wish all children undergoing trials this summer the best of luck.

As always all comments welcome.