Cleaning up the politics of tryouts

Ontario's Whitchurch-Stouffville Minor Hockey Association has developed a system that includes independent evaluators to ensure tryouts are fair.

Minor hockey creates unbiased selection process in Stouffville, Ont.

A new tryout system has been developed in Ontario's Whitchurch-Stouffville Minor Hockey Association to ensure children have a fair chance.

"We brought in an independent evaluator so we had multiple perspectives on players," Craig White says.

He coaches the Stouffville Clippers major atom 'A' team and says "these people didn't have any clue who they were watching, and evaluated without any preconceived notion about a particular player."

A panel of qualified goalie instructors evaluates goalies separately. The coach is encouraged to choose his or her team before seeking volunteers to be assistant coaches, trainers or managers. This is done to eliminate favours between coaches and parents.

'Country club' atmosphere

Greg Smith, the association's coach mentor, changed the audition process by combining the top two levels into one tryout. By doing so, he says this will eliminate the "country club" atmosphere between parents and coaches.

"These are the teams where all of the parents get together and party," Smith says. As a result, "you have kids that want to break into that lineup, but feel that they don't get a fair shot at tryouts."

The association now distributes coaching manuals that outline philosophies, responsibilities and the selection process that will be used. The manual is intended to enhance the experience for players, parents and coaches.

White says positive changes have come from the new system— what's also positive is the feedback.

"The fact you have a process guide in place makes decisions that much easier," he says. "It gives us structured responsibility that everyone in the association is going to be playing by. This way, there will be consistency from season to season."

'Best for the kids'

To make tryouts fair and objective, they require qualified and neutral volunteers to assist in the evaluation process. They also hired Total Hockey Skills to run the on-ice portion which allows the coach to evaluate from the stands.

Smith says now, "not only do tryouts have to be fair and equitable, they need to be perceived to be."

White says he knows there will be an adjustment period but most association members are supportive of the change because it's "best for the kids," and "we want to make them have a positive tryout experience and make it easier for them."