Ask the Expert: How Do I Help My Child Who's Nervous About Trying Out for Her School Sports Team?


Colleen Carroll, a local children's leadership expert and family consultant, offers advice on helping kids who are nervous about trying out for sports at school.


nervous boy with tennis racquetIt is normal for a child to feel nervous prior to a sports try-out. Research shows that a moderate amount of anxiety can actually improve performance during competitive situations. However, too much tension over lengths of time isn’t beneficial, and there are steps you can take as a parent to help your child remain calm under pressure.

It’s important to validate the emotions your child is having. She wants to hear you say it is normal to feel this way. As a parent, try to pinpoint where the nervousness might be coming from. Ask yourself honestly if there is any pressure coming from within the family, such as from older siblings. Is there an expectation of perfection from anyone in the household? Are children taught to learn from their let-downs rather than feel inadequate? If the family embraces failures as learning experiences rather than lost opportunities, the child will worry less about not making the team.

Information is a powerful tool. Find out about the try-out process and share with your child what he can expect. Will it be a large or small group try-out? Will the coach be accepting a dozen or just a few players? Will there be running or speed drills, shots on goal, or free throws? Anything you can find out will give your child actual focus points and help alleviate the stress of the unknown. Then practice those areas with him so that he can go into the try-out as well prepared as possible.

Do something different and interesting during this time to distract your child. This will relieve the anxiety for a while by giving her something else to focus on. Actively pursuing new experiences will allow your child to see that although her beloved sport is wonderful, if in fact she does not make the team, there are many other activities in life to enjoy.

The 24 hours before the try-out can be the most stressful. Suggest that your child try visualizing playing successfully, whether it be catching a fly ball or making a difficult shot on goal. Visualization is a technique used by Olympic athletes to create winning moments in their game.

Finally, avoid a mad rush the day of the try-out by getting there early, after a good night’s sleep and a nourishing breakfast. Your child will then be ready to perform at her absolute best.


Colleen Carroll, Ed.D., is a children’s leadership expert and family consultant specializing in leadership skill development in adolescents and pre-adolescents in the greater NY metro area. Dr. Carroll divides her time between upstate NY and Westchester County. Visit her website,, to learn more about Leading Edge Coach’s events and sevices.