What We Look For
Last Tuesday was Riot’s first practice of the 2015 season. Walking up onto the Magnuson Playfields felt like walking through my door after a long stint away from home. In spite of the ice-cold rain that began to find its way between my layers, and even though the wind kicked up and clouds rolled in to blanket the rare and coveted Seattle sunshine, I was washed over and over by waves of warmth from my teammates.
I find this Riot culture infectious; I have the pleasure of being surrounded by some of the most thoughtful, strong, and loving humans for the length of the club season. As a member of this year’s Personnel Committee, I volunteered to write this blog post as a way of explaining to those vying for a spot – and to anyone else who cares to know – how this culture is fostered through the tryout process. In other words, what Riot places a premium on, specifically in terms of off-field qualities. So here they are – all of our secrets.
Coachability and Eagerness to Learn.
Learning something new is uncomfortable — at least initially — for almost everyone. A large part of playing on a team involves becoming accustomed to being pretty uncomfortable in a group setting, and being willing to grow regardless. Entering into tryouts and the season itself with a flexible growth mindset is a simple way to set yourself up for success. One of my teammates is rumored to be one of the greatest offensive cutters of all time, but I’ve almost never seen her cut; she spent her last several years on Riot as a handler for the benefit of the team. Her sacrifice demonstrated a selfless willingness to learn something new in order to make the team better.
Seamlessly fitting in to the team-wide system is something that will make you stand out to any club program. Chances are if you make the team you’re trying out for, your role will be different than it ever has been. Whether you played college last year, or are a transplant from another club team, or if you are a fourth-year veteran, a season holds endless new niches that need filling and skills to be learned. Being ready to ask questions and try new things makes this transition into a new team’s system or a new role easier on all involved (coaches, the rest of the team, and yourself). And your teammates will be going through this same process alongside you.
I have seen countless teammates sustain injuries while playing. Over the last several years, I’ve watched five people tear their ACLs, seen broken arms and wrists, fractured fibulas and clavicles, and had teammates go to the ER only to return, take off their air casts, and tape their ankles in order to keep playing. These people possess a kind of resilience that allows them to play until they can’t anymore.
I have stood beside teammates who spent entire seasons on the sidelines; teammates who brought their bosu ball+balance mat+lacrosse ball+three different colors of bands+personal kettlebell routinely to the fields so they could do their PT in the company of the people that motivate them most. This is the resilience of knowing when to step back and take time away from what you love in order to do what you need.
Riot has an entire lowlight video to look back on and learn from. This montage demonstrates an everyday resilience; each one of these moments of apparent failure is something that can be learned from. It’s this final form of resilience that’s easiest to assess during a tryout. This manifests as you working on your around backhand even if it feels like its been blocked every single time you’ve ever tried to throw it. These apparent failures become palatable when you learn to appreciate the fact that they’re making you better, even though that often means they are making you feel a little shitty at the same time. Every time your teammate beats you in a sprint, celebrate it and look at it as an opportunity. It is that kind of strength that buoys you and your team up when you both need it most, and it is this resilience that triumphs when you think your brain or your muscles might fail.
Celebrate Your Teammates.
I have seen every one of my teammates and coaches cry. I don’t know if every club team experiences this same phenomenon, but at the end of major tournaments, especially Nationals, our team spends a long, long time in a ritual of appreciation. In my time on Riot there have been appreciations for everything from reconstructed ACLs, to whoever cooked breakfast on tournament mornings, to a group of people who ran a flawlessly boring dump-set for a single point during a game. This melting pot of end-of-season emotion and thoughtful retrospection always ends in tears. I can’t speak for anyone else, but my crying in these circles is stands out from any other crying jags in my life in that it is (a) out of happiness and (b) out of happiness that has almost nothing to do with myself. It’s strange to get to the point where the only way you feel like you can adequately pay homage to your teammates and all they’ve done is to bawl. Really hard.
This appreciative revelry is at the extreme end of what Riot does at every practice and during every track workout. I get easily 100 high-fives per practice, not to mention friendly heckles and eye contact that communicates volumes. The season is long, and taking the time to celebrate the people who endure it with you goes uncountable miles in terms of keeping everyone healthy and happy.
So there’s the Riot shortlist. Coachability, Eagerness to Learn, Resilience, and Celebrating Your Teammates. As it turns out, trying out for a team is just as much an emotional and mental process as it is a physical one. And it’s a process that requires a lot of investment, which means you run the risk of getting hurt if it doesn’t go the way you hoped. Such is the way of the world, and no one likes getting hurt, but I promise that it will be worth it, and that you will learn something, and probably have at least a little bit of fun.