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Hiring help: the evolution of youth sport evaluations

Click to play video 'Family Matters: The evolution of sports evaluations' Family Matters: The evolution of sports evaluations
WATCH ABOVE: Sports tryouts have evolved and making the team isn't what it once was for young kids. As Laurel Gregory explains, evaluations have become less about who you know, and more about what you can do.

The Edmonton Girls Hockey Association is finalizing its rosters for the upcoming season and it’s leaning on outside help to rank 400 players.

Professional evaluators will determine which level or tier the girls will play at.

“When I started, there was lots of — a number of issues where parents became pretty upset because they felt that their kids weren’t given a fair shake,” said Mike McCarthy, vice-president of hockey operations for the EGHA.

400 players from the Edmonton Girls Hockey Association are vying for a spot on 24 teams.
400 players from the Edmonton Girls Hockey Association are vying for a spot on 24 teams. Julien Fournier/ Global News

To rid the process of that perception, the EGHA has hired HockeyEvaluations.com to help assess each player and ensure teams are matched in skill and ability.

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“It could be Wayne Gretzky’s kid on the ice, it really doesn’t matter to us,” owner Justin Reynolds said.

Reynolds started the company more than 20 years ago as a way to remove politics from youth sports.

“What has happened in the past is parents or friends of executives are picking the teams,” he said. “It’s difficult when your friend’s child is playing out there and being evaluated to give them a fair and impartial process.

“It’s human nature to look at them in a different light.”

Evaluators from HockeyEvaluations.com are helping The Edmonton Girls Hockey Association build its rosters.
Evaluators from HockeyEvaluations.com are helping The Edmonton Girls Hockey Association build its rosters. Julien Fournier/ Global News

Reynolds has a team of four evaluators watching from the stands. Players are put through drills sessions and scrimmages over a minimum of four days.

“Every evaluator has an iPad in the stands. They don’t have the names. All they have is the jersey and the colour that the player is wearing. So there’s no name associated with that,” Reynolds said.

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“It’s number and skills and ability that players get selected, on each and every team.”

Read more: Competitive sports can be life-changing. Is your child ready to take part?

Coaches’ input

John O’Sullivan is a longtime coach and founder of the Changing the Game Project. He says evaluations should be one tool utilized to build a team and worries evaluators only see a player’s performance without context, including their past experience and potential.

In order to get the politics out of it, I fear that we’re eliminating all the character traits that really make for a great teammate and are actually far greater predictors of whether a boy or a girl will be a good hockey player or soccer player in the long term,” he said.

“Just because they happen to perform well in that day, which is probably a greater indicator of: did they sleep well? Did they eat well? Is anything going on at home? And are they bigger, faster and stronger today than everyone else in their age group?” 

Read more: Surviving the cut: How to support a child during tryouts

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O’Sullivan sees the value in including a coach’s opinion.

“I think, as an organization, bring in your outside evaluators and maybe they might see something in the kid that our coaches don’t see,” he said.

“But balance that information with what you know about a child and what you know about a family.”

O’Sullivan also fears “early bloomers” will get the most support and development.

“Far too often, organizations just pick those early bloomers,” he said.

“Those stars that shine bright very quickly and they pour all their resources and best ice time and best coaches into them. And that kid who didn’t make it when he was eight years old will never get the chance to flourish. Whereas, if he had great coaching, he might be the exact player you were looking for.”

O’Sullivan also encourages organizations to invest in strong coaches at all levels and allow for movement throughout the season.

“Whether that’s additional practices with an additional team [or] additional games with a better team. As they grow, as they change, there needs to be opportunities for movement.
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Transparent, fair selection

Hockey Canada says it has taken several steps to level the playing field: tryouts cannot happen during the first week of school, organizations must offer a series of developmental skates before the first evaluation and there must be a minimum of three skates.

“Actually giving kids an opportunity to really show what they can do,” said Corey McNabb, director of hockey development programs at Hockey Canada.

“A lot of kids will really get better from evaluation one to two to three and so on because they are a little bit more comfortable with it.”

Organizations also have to be very clear about how the evaluation process will take place.

“It’s something that’s going to make their associations better, if they have a very transparent tryout process,” McNabb said.

WATCH BELOW: How to support a child during sports tryouts

Click to play video 'How to support a child during sports tryouts' How to support a child during sports tryouts
How to support a child during sports tryouts

Back on the ice in Edmonton, evaluations continue for the EGHA. McCarthy is confident the selection process is working and the proof is in the feedback from parents.

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“Less complaints!” McCarthy said with a laugh. “I also think it’s a fair process. I think the results are very accurate. They’re never going to be perfect, but as accurate as you are going to get in this situation.”

-With files from Global News’ Christine Meadows