Surviving Sport Tryouts

The Tryout:
  Trying out for a roster spot on a sports team can be extremely stressful for young athletes. Here are some tips for parents on how to prepare your child for the tryout:

• Emphasize that winning a spot on the team will only happen if she tries her hardest and put forward maximum effort, and stress that she will not be evaluated on talent alone.

• Encourage her to be realistic about her chances, and prepare her for the possibility that she won’t make the team. 

• Find the balance between optimism and pessimism.  Being overly optimistic puts extra pressure on kids to make the team; being too pessimistic about her chances will discourage her from trying her best. 

If They Don’t Make the Team:  
   It helps to understand just how upsetting and traumatic it can be, if your child is not selected.   For many, being cut represents an assault on their self-esteem, and their first exposure to rejection.  They feel the pain and embarrassment of being excluded from an activity in which they want to participate, and denied the important social connection sports allow athletes to make with their peers. Here’s what you can do:

• Avoid an immediate overreaction.  While you may not be happy with the outcome, let her know that you are happy she did her best. 

• Offer unconditional love, support and empathy, and above all, practice active listening.  Listen to the pain he is experiencing.  Listen to the disappointment he is feeling.  Listen to the anger he may have toward the coach or the team selection process.  Listen to what he thinks was unfair about the process.

• Nonverbal communication is a great way to show you are sad and that there may be no appropriate words.

• Validate her feelings, don’t play them down.  Let her vent and have her feeling heard; give her a chance to share her pain and disappointment. 

• Don’t paint him as the victim – it will only make him more disappointed.

• Explain how coaches typically pick a team; that there are usually a couple of players who are obvious and easy picks, one way or other, and the rest are somewhere in the middle.  Ask her whether she could honestly say she was one of the best players.  She will most likely admit that she fell into the middle group, where the selection process becomes much more difficult.

• Develop a game plan for the future. Some children will be motivated by being cut to redouble their efforts to improve so they make the team next year.  If so, volunteer to work with him to get better (don’t push — his motivation has to come from within). 

• Be aware that your child may view being cut as the end of the road for her participation in a particular sport.  She may recognize that she doesn’t have the skill to play the sport at the next level.  If you agree, suggest that she try another sport. This is especially good advice for children under 12.  They should be experimenting with a number of sports before settling on one.

• Consider talking with the coach in a non-confrontational way to find out why your child was not selected and what he needs to improve to make the team next year. 

The Silver Lining:
   I work with many youth sports parents and try to follow up a month or so after their child has been cut from a team to see how they are doing. I am always impressed by the “silver linings” that appear after a child has discovered a new sport. Many parents have taken my suggestion to get their kids involved in a lifetime sport such as wall climbing, tennis and kayaking. My suggestion always includes learning as a family. Kids who are left out of one sport are usually thrilled to know there is an adult eager to try a new sport with them.

BROOKE DE LENCH is the founder of and the author of "Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports" (HarperCollins).