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10 Tips for Terrific Tryouts

Tryout season can be tough! The new school year has just begun, and already your tw/een is being asked to put themselves out there in front of their coaches. Tryouts can be a huge source of anxiety for your child. Read on for some great advice you can pass on to them to help ease their jitters.

1. Don’t focus on making the team. If your tw/een walks in to a tryout thinking, I have to make this team, I must make this team, my goal is to make this team, they will send their pressure gauge through the roof. While making the team may be something they really want, using it as a goal is not going to be effective.

The truth is, your tw/een is not 100 percent in control of making the team. What they are in control of is the way they play and their attitude, so focus on those things instead. Have your tw/een choose a goal and choose carefully. Goals can be calming and focusing if the right kind is chosen. They can set goals like: ‘No matter what happens today, I will stay positive’ or ‘Today, I will skate hard.’ Make sure their goals are about the process of what they need to do out there and the things they can control. This will help keep their mind where it is most effective - and, yes, up their chances significantly of making the team.

2. Review strengths. When they attend a tryout, they are going to want to shine. Everyone does this in a different way because everyone has different strengths. Your tw/een needs to focus on what they have to offer.

Have your tw/een make a list of why they are prepared to do their best this season. Maybe their level of fitness has improved. Maybe they are a more positive person. Perhaps their ability to influence a team has grown. Have them choose their top three strengths from this list and write them on a cue card to keep in their bag. They can take their strengths with them - literally.

3. Show team skills. Being a good team player goes a long way. This means knowing how to communicate with and work with fellow athletes, even if they are participating in an individual sport.

Showing their team skills is good for everybody. When your child encourages other players, they are showing their ability to be a team leader. And positive talk helps your child stay positive. Positive talk can greatly decrease the butterflies as it takes their focus off of nervousness and places their focus on what is happening around them. That’s good for playing, too!

4. Start fresh every day. Tryouts often take place over more than one day. That means your tw/een might have a bad tryout day and then have to go back and try again. The last thing your tw/een wants to do is drag that bad day of tryouts with them to the next day. This can leave them feeling mentally and physically tired and focused on the negative.

Make a point of doing a quick review. I like to call this the ‘2/2 Formula.’ Have your tw/een choose two things they are proud of, and two things that need ‘sharpening’ for the next day. Then move along and relax with something non-sport related. Remember the motto: ‘Every day is a fresh start’ - meaning, this new day is full of opportunity.

5. Watch the language. Make sure your tw/een has positive self-statements at the ready. Stress naturally causes us to focus on the negative. Have your tw/een choose a key word to keep coming back to for the day, something that reminds them where they want their focus to be. Choose words like ‘fast,’ ‘commit,’ or choose a phrase like: ‘Do your best and forget the rest’ or, ‘Stay in the here and now.’ If they have positive language ready, they are less likely to have headspace for that nasty gremlin of doubt.

6. Focus on their own page. There is no doubt that when your tw/een walks in to a tryout, they will want to check out who is there, their competition. Do I know them? Have I played with them before? But this can quickly turn into, Are they better than me? What if they are better than me? There are only so many spots on the team. I can’t blow this. Not exactly helpful thoughts when it comes to bringing out your child’s best. Remember how you were taught in school to focus on your own page? Have your tw/een do just that. They should focus on what they came to a tryout to do and do it well. Advise them not to give their attention to the next person - they’ll just be handing them an advantage. Instead, they should keep their energy and focus on themselves.

7. Be prepared to accept mistakes. There is no way anyone gets through life, sport, and certainly a tryout without making a mistake. But it is not the end; it is only one moment in time. In fact, it could be that some mistakes are made because they are showing their ability to take risks. Coaches tend to like that sort of thing. When your child does make a mistake, have a reboot strategy ready so they can get over it and get on with the tryout.

8. Forget perfection. Perfection is not an ideal; it’s not even possible. What happens when your child starts to focus on the impossible? They become frustrated, impatient, and angry with themselves. As you can guess, this means your tw/een will likely not perform to their full potential. Think of a new ideal to go after: excellence, mastery of skills, continuous improvement. If their mindset is positive and focused on the possible, they will get the best from themselves.

9. Everyone is human. Don’t forget that the fellow competitor next to your tw/een is likely just as nervous. Superstars do not surround your tw/een; only others with strengths and weaknesses, just like your child. Whew!

10. And if your tw/een doesn’t make it… Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Keep things in perspective and be sure your tw/een gets some extra help and support. They can talk to people they trust. They will probably want to understand as best they can why it happened, so they can move forward and set new goals. And that’s the good news: there are always new goals to set.

April Clay, R. Psych., is a Calgary-based sport and counseling psychologist who works extensively with youth sport. Find out more by visiting her website,

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