With the new school year comes the beginning of many competitive sports and performance activities for our children. Some youth show up to tryouts for these extracurriculars nonchalantly and miss the opportunity to showcase their true skills, while others put too much pressure on themselves, causing them to freeze and come up short. Tryouts can be stressful, especially when it comes to performing in front of their peers. Here are some tips to help your child best demonstrate their skills and prepare for their upcoming tryouts:
Pull back on pressure.
One thing we know is that particularly for children, high pressure doesn’t usually produce the best results. Help your children set realistic expectations and focus on the process of becoming involved in their sport or activity of interest (e.g., learning relevant skills, meeting the coaches, experiencing the tryouts), rather than a specific outcome (i.e., making the team). If they don’t make that particular team, another opportunity will come as they improve their skills, or they can pursue involvement at a less-competitive level to continue enjoying themselves while they prepare to try again at a higher level next year. If their skills are clearly good enough to secure them a spot on the team, encourage them to compete with themselves and their own best, rather than compare themselves to others.
While it’s natural to approach tryouts with the intention to demonstrate skills perfectly, coaches pay attention to (and sometimes even prioritize) how youth respond to making mistakes and recovering from slip ups. Demonstrations of perseverance and calmness after frustrating mistakes are valuable attributes to showcase. Mindfulness, relaxation, and frustration tolerance are helpful skills your kids can learn (which can also help if your child experiences performance anxiety).
For children striving to secure a spot on a sports or performance team, personal attributes that are team-focused are of critical importance to coaches (especially when many youth with a high level of skill are competing for the same spot). These characteristics include cooperation, collaborative goal-setting, sharing, and cheering others on. Displaying these qualities during tryouts will send a valuable message to potential coaches that your child is ready and willing to be a contributing part of a team.
Affirm their assets.
It can be tempting to focus solely on improving your child’s weaker skills; however, one critical practice of high-level athletes and performers is engaging in positive self-talk. Like adults, children and youth often internalize what they hear from the people around them, so giving lots of positive feedback about their assets and praising them for the skills they have mastered will help them develop a repertoire of positive statements from which they can pull for inner encouragement.
Work with their weaknesses.
It’s a hard but necessary lesson to accept our weaknesses, and it can be even harder for youth preparing for an evaluative setting like a tryout. With that said, recognising and understanding areas to improve upon really shows maturity and insight. Normalizing weaknesses, framing them as growth areas that are still developing, and balancing them with the aforementioned strengths can help youth perform with the confidence they need at tryouts.
Focus on fun.
No matter their age, skill level, or the height of their aspirations, the priority in youth sports and performance activities is to have fun. Even while developing the skills and discipline needed to succeed, enjoyment is paramount for commitment, motivation, elite performance, and longevity. So, help your young person to also treat tryouts as an opportunity to have fun!
5 Ways to Help Your Child Overcome Performance Anxiety by Fred Lee (2011): http://parentingsquad.com/5-waysto-help-your-child-overcome-performance-anxiety
7 Ways to Mentally Prepare for Team Sports Tryouts by Patrick & Lisa Cohn: https://www.activekids.com/soccer/articles/7-ways-to-mentally-prepare-for-teamsports-tryouts
Helping Young Athletes Perform Well in Tryouts by Patrick Cohn (2018): https://www.youthsportspsychology.com/youth_sports_psychology_blog/helping-young-athletesperform-well-in-tryouts/
The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook for Kids by Lawrence Shapiro and Robin Sprague. Instant Help; Workbook Edition (2009).