Basketball Tryout Philosophies Part 1

There are many different philosophies about selecting your team at basketball tryouts.  Let’s go over some of them here with some pros and cons of each & some real-life stories from the trenches!  Please let us know your thoughts in the comments!  What has worked for you?

Tryout Philosophy #1-Keep As Many As You Can!


  • May be necessary just for numbers to practice 5 on 5, or to field subvarsity teams in some situations.
  • Some players develop late- the studs at young ages are not always the studs at later ages.  True story: I was a varsity assistant on a really good team long ago.  We were ranked #1 in the state among all classifications, had multiple DI players, and went on to break many school records.  However, we had a kid on our middle school team that we thought was good enough to help us on varsity right then if the rules allowed it.  When that kid got to high school he never grew another inch and was passed athletically.  He had dominated with his size and strength in middle school, but he was never the impact player we thought he would be at the high school level because he peaked early.
  • Big kids often take longer for their coordination to catch up with their size and as we all know- you can’t teach size! True story: we once begged our middle school coach to keep a big kid who was not good enough to help him at the time, but had 7’ tall relatives.  He did keep him and the kid eventually earned a DI scholarship as a 6’9” post player.
  • No matter how successful younger age teams are there is a normal rate of attrition in high school.  Some kids move, focus on other sports, don’t like the coach, etc.


  • The shorter the games, the harder it is to get players in.  Most states have shortened quarters for subvarsity games.  True story: I once had a parent of a freshman team player come across the court and yell at me as the varsity head coach because their son had not gotten into the game yet.  It was the SECOND quarter. 
  • If some kids don’t get enough playing time they or their parents may become a problem.  True story: We once had a JV kid’s parents demand their money back from the gate after a game because their son didn’t get to play enough.
  • It may give false hope to a kid.  Some kids may be good enough to make a freshman team just to give them enough players to have a team, but have no chance of making the next level.  The problem is that they rarely realize this and may be devastated when they do not make it the next year “after working so hard.”

Tryout Philosophy #2-  Keep the Bare Minimum!


  • I have one coaching friend (who has been very successful) who doesn’t play many girls because he doesn’t keep many girls.  Sometimes players can lose motivation if  they do not see their importance in games no matter how much we sell the importance of practice and paying your dues.
  • Few players may mean fewer complaints about playing time.


  • If one or multiple players (in any combination of these)- gets injured, suspended from school, quits, or fouls out- you may be in a serious bind!  True story: After one season where I kept 15 players on varsity and many were unhappy I kept 10 the next year.  That was great until two quit (one via text and one via cell phone call 6 minutes before pregame meal).
  • It may be harder to build for the long term.  If I have 8 players and 6 are seniors what do I do the next year?

Tryout Philosophy #3- Build Depth with Younger Kids.


  • Gaining varsity experience as a reserve at a young age may inspire a player to dream big dreams and make big plans to reach them.
  • Some younger kids will accept the role of reserve on varsity better than an older player.


  • Playing varsity early may overinflate a kid’s ego where they now think they do not have to work hard for success.  True story: Our football team was still in the state playoffs so we were forced to fill in the varsity roster with young kids who were not ready.  One big freshman had a double-double in his first varsity game, but we were playing a very bad team and he did absolutely no little things right.  However, it was hard for him to accept he wasn’t doing little things right because of the false success he had.  When he did not perform against better teams it hurt his confidence and by his junior year he gave up basketball.
  • Young kids tend to make more mistakes.  Sometimes the excuse ”It’s ok- we’re young” can prop kids up to where they don’t push for excellence now.

Tryout Philosophy #4- Build Your Team with Veterans Only


  • Veterans have paid their dues.
  • Veterans should be very familiar with your system and more detail oriented.


  • When they don’t perform as seniors it can be very painful to replace them.
  • May make it harder to build depth for the long term.


How about you coaches?  What did I leave out?  What are your experiences?  You can leave a comment in the box below this blog.  Until next time, coach ’em up!  

-Dr. Hal Wilson

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