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Successful Basketball Tryouts:
Finding Your Team

Every new season, every new round of basketball tryouts, brings a mix of hope and anxiety. It's the beginning, so anything can happen. You've got many months and dozens of basketball games ahead of you, and if you do it right, you're pretty sure you can win more games than you lose and maybe even come out on top. You have a head full of offensive plays and amazing basketball strategies, and all you need is a few players with the basketball skills to pull off a successful basketball season.

But then, you don't know for sure what you'll be working with. If you're lucky and in the position to recruit, then you may already be expecting a couple of good players to be filling positions on your team. But many coaches aren't in such a position. It is these two or three days of tryouts where we pull our talent from - where most of the players are unknown to us, and within a few short practices we need to decide who gets to stay and who goes home.

You've got to make decisions. They need to be quick decisions, because basketball tryouts only last a few days. And they need to be smart decisions, because the basketball season lasts for many months!

Running Successful Basketball Tryouts

What to Look for in the Players

  • Hustle: if they want to be on the team, they better realize now that they need to work for it. A player that works hard, that runs drills as quickly as they can, that sprints to you when the whistle blows - this player will learn and develop quickly. Those that lope along and slouch on the sidelines won't.

  • Aggression: they've got to want the ball, be willing to take the shot, drive the lane, stand for the charge.

  • Attitude: it's not just wanting to play, it's how they see that playing happening. They need to be positive in their actions and words, team-oriented in their approach, demonstrate the ability to lead as well as realize other players hold as important a place on the court as they do.

  • Conditioning: losing a game because the other team is better than you is bad enough; losing because you got run off the court is unforgivable. The less time you need to spend on conditioning in the preseason, the more time you can spend on skills and strategy development.

  • Athletic Ability: not skill here, but the qualities that make a person an athlete, regardless of the sport they are playing. Agility, speed, quickness, endurance, reaction time.

  • Skill: but keep in mind, this is low on the list for a reason. Skills can be taught, and taught relatively easily. Just because a player is skilled doesn't mean he's a good fit for your team. A highly skilled player with a bad attitude can easily drive a wedge into an otherwise good team.

  • Height: basketball is a game where height counts, and unless you are blessed with several tall players who can play, a tall player who can't play can be worked with. Remember, skills can be taught - height can't.

  • Team Balance: you don't want 12 guards on the team. Or 12 centers. When choosing the team, you need to consider basketball positions and balance your choice to end up with 3 or 4 guards, 5 or 6 forwards, 2 to 4 big men.

Running Successful Basketball Tryouts

The Pre-Tryout Meeting

Have a meeting before the first session of basketball tryouts. Emphasize what you'll be looking for - the list above - and how important it is for players to have these attributes, how these abilities will help them succeed.

Also emphasize that these are expectations on the court and off. Work hard in practice, but word hard in school as well. Have a positive attitude on the court, and a positive attitude on the street. Trouble with academics or outside of school will signal trouble for the team - players can't play if they are suspended.

This can also be the time where you can gather information from the players. Hand out player bio sheets for them to complete, asking for name, age, grade, contact information, previous playing experience. After you have chosen the team, add to this more information, such as the players' academic schedules, so that you can contact teachers if necessary. Teachers usually appreciate this - for some players, the threat of sitting the bench or suspension from the team will make them study harder, or at least, hard enough to pass.

Running Successful Basketball Tryouts

Managing the Tryouts

Run basketball tryouts like you would a practice - have a good practice plan for tryouts, incorporating drills that focus on fundamental skills and conditioning - you can find plenty here on Better Basketball Coaching, or you can check out Coach Derek Kellogg's eBasketballdrills program for a ton more. Focus on basic fundamentals and make them work, make them show you what they've got to give you. This will show you not only who has talent, but more importantly, who's serious, who's been practicing, and who you will want to coach. Nobody wants to coach a player who won't hustle.

Have an assistant coach or a couple of managers help you. I always issue numbered and colored pinnies at the beginning of each practice, so if I'm taking notes I don't need to be remembering the player's name, just the number. This allows my managers to do the same when they are tracking performance as well. A lot of the basic information you are tracking can be done by managers (points, turnovers, rebounds) which frees you up to focus on the more important aspects - attitudes and interactions.

Just a note - I know of coaches who have returning players do some of this - not always a great idea, in my view, since personal biases can pop up. Stick as best you can to using adults for your assistants.

Running Successful Basketball Tryouts

Player Evaluations

Evaluate players for the qualities listed above - attitude, work ethic, team play and leadership, hustle, speed and quickness.

Also evaluate their skills in the following areas:


  • good form?
  • consistency?
  • performs under pressure - i.e., in the game?


  • good passing fundamentals?
  • accuracy under pressure?

Ball Handling

  • dribbles with both left and right?
  • sees the floor?
  • maintains control under pressure?

Defensive Skills

  • applies defensive pressure on the ball?
  • helps out and recovers?

Running Successful Basketball Tryouts

After Tryouts

If your numbers permit, try to talk to each player you've cut individually. Offer advice and suggestions of what they can improve on, and how they might go about making those improvements. Suggest basketball camps or rec leagues you know of where they may get some coaching and experience. Remember that these kids have a lot of their hopes and egos wrapped up in this, and to be cut can be a painful experience for them.

More tips for coaching Basketball Tryouts here

Go to the Better Basketball Coaching home page

"The difference between an extraordinary player and an ordinary player is that little extra."
- Michael Burks

Want something more visual?

Check out UMass Head Coach Derek Kellogg's video package of drills


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