With the spring sport season kicking off around the country, the topic of tryouts is in the air. El Paso Times (Texas) writer Wayne Thornton described a scene that is all too familiar to many of us: Kids try out for their favorite team, putting in the hard work and sweat, trying to demonstrate their talents for the coach. On the last day of tryouts, the coach posts a list on the locker-room door - for everyone to see - the names of the players who have made the team. "After
a sleepless night, you get to school early, walk over to the coach's office, and your name is not on the list. You read it over and over, just hoping your name will magically appear. Then reality sets in and the questions start to swirl in your young mind. Was I not good enough? Was it because I dropped that pass, or was it because I missed too many easy layups?" We all know: tryouts can be very tough on kids. But how can we as Responsible Sport Parents and Responsible
Coaches help kids manage this process and stay positive?
Tryouts can be very tough on youth athletes. But it's equally tough on Responsible Coaches and Responsible Sport Parents. We know that tryouts are part of the youth sport experience at some point during a youth athlete's career. (To be sure, we acknowledge the debate about when tryouts - at what age and what level - should begin.) Tryouts are one of the many experiences in youth sports that prepare us for similar situations in our adult lives - college applications, job
interviews, church choir auditions, and for some even professional auditions.
"Disappointment is a great opportunity to reinforce positive character traits like determination and resilience," reminds Jim Thompson, Founder and CEO of Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA). The experts at PCA have a few good tips that could come in handy as you help your youth athletes process their experience with tryouts.
Before your children start the tryout process, sit down and have a conversation about what their goals are for trying out and playing on the team. Give them positive assurances that no matter the outcome you are proud of them. You might say "I know how much this means to you and what effort you've put into preparing. I'm confident you'll do as well as possible, and whether you end up making the team or not, I'll be proud of you." Talk about what other
opportunities there may be for playing soccer in your area if they don't make the team. By talking about goals and outlining alternatives, the tryout process won't feel so 'do-or-die' for your athlete.
Focus on Effort
As your athletes enters the tryout process, remind them that they can't control the outcome - whether they make the team or not. What they can control is their effort and attitude. Remind your athletes to give maximum effort at all times and to focus on their own effort as opposed to what other athletes are doing.
Keep Athletes Active
The pressure to perform and the fear of failure can wreak havoc on youth athletes. Responsible Coaches organize tryouts where athletes are constantly in motion, not standing around watching other players perform or getting nervous before their turn.
Laughing, having fun, and learning new things can all be part of tryouts. Regardless of the outcome, kids should have a good time during the tryouts themselves. Laughter can also really help young athletes let go of stress and stay relaxed. Responsible Coaches don't purposely create a stress-filled environment if they want to elicit the best performance from athletes.
Open to Learning
While coaches are certainly looking to evaluate players based on skill levels, coaches also look for athletes who have the potential to improve. This often ties to an impression of a player's "coachability." Remind your athletes that they might make mistakes in the tryouts, but that how they handle those mistakes - whether they bounce back and learn from the mistakes - may be even more important to the coach. Responsible Coaches look for this attitude just as much
as they look for the skills.
Okay to Be Disappointed
As Responsible Coaches and Responsible Sport Parents, we can help kids cope with their disappointment by reminding them that it's okay to be disappointed. Empathize with them. Don't try to make your kid feel better by saying the tryout wasn't important. Such comments tend to invalidate their feelings and dismiss something that was important to them. If it wasn't important to them, they wouldn't have tried out in the first place. Instead, consider sharing a
story of when you were disappointed and how you overcame that disappointment
'You're The Kind of Person'
The team at PCA reminds us that 'You're The Kind of Person' statements can really help kids manage through the disappointment of not making the team. 'I know it means a lot to you, but you're the kind of person who doesn't give up easily.' Or 'You're the kind of person who doesn't let setbacks stop you from playing the game you love'. Use these statements to help shape your athlete's self-image in the face of disappointment and to
begin planning how to move beyond that disappointment.
Check Your Emotions
Responsible Sport Parents keep their own emotions in check when it comes to their children's youth sports experience. Having parents who get upset or angry or want to challenge a coach's decision about tryouts just puts additional pressure on kids. Rather than succumbing to your own emotions, stay supportive of your child's emotional reactions.
As Responsible Sport Coaches, one of the best things you can do is give kids honest feedback about their tryouts, including areas where they can improve for next year. Feeling rejected is hard enough, but not knowing why you didn't make the team makes it even harder. Try to give kids some direction on what they can do to improve and encourage them to try out next year. Better yet, find a place for them to be part of the team in other ways - player manager, etc.
Tryouts are never easy - on athletes, coaches and parents alike! But with a little planning by both coaches and parents, and a mind toward protecting our kids' self-esteem and self-worth, together we can create an environment that fosters learning valuable life lessons.