The ABCs of youth sports tryouts

By Janis Meredith | Posted 12/4/2017

Youth sports tryouts take a toll on many families. In our home, tryout week always brought a certain amount of tension – unspoken worries of, “What if our child doesn’t make the team?”, over-analyzations of practice performances, and wondering how we will manage the crazy schedule if our child does make it.

But tryout week doesn’t have to be so hard on families. Remember the ABCs and you will make it through the tryout experience much more smoothly.

A: Attitude

Keep your attitude POSITIVE.

This is one of those times as a parent when you may have to hide what you are really feeling or thinking. No matter how much you are worried about your child making the team, keep that to yourself. If you express your nervousness, questions, or worries to your child, you will add to your child’s personal stress. Kids have enough to think about and may be just as worried as you are, and they don’t need you confirming their fears. You absolutely must keep up the positive attitude.

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Yes, you can ask casually how practice went, perhaps asking questions like: “What was the most fun about practice today?” Or, “What did you learn new today?” Do not ask questions like: “Were you on the starting team? How did you do compared to others?”

I understand you want to know how your children are doing and if they are feeling confident, but try to refrain from digging in too much with those kinds of questions. They will only add to children’s stress about the whole tryout experience and may even shut them down from talking about it. Sometimes, kids just want to come home and put it behind them.

B: Boundaries

There are some lines that you, as a tryout parent, should not cross. It’s important for you to set up these boundaries so you can give your children the positive support they need. These verbal and physical boundaries include:

Be a silent observer at practice, if you must go. Your child is not playing in a game, so you don’t need to cheer and you definitely don’t need to be another coaching voice from the sidelines. Unless you absolutely have to be there because of driving logistics, I would suggest you simply stay away.

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At a recent tryout, I observed – and clearly heard – one dad instructing his high school daughter loudly from the top row of the bleachers. As she played various positions on the field, he yelled comments and criticisms about her play. I felt very bad for this player and sensed her embarrassment.

If you insist on watching the tryouts, do it from a distance. Your presence alone may increase your child’s nervousness, so try to stay in the background as much as possible.

Resist the temptation to ask the coach how your child did, how’s the team looking, and any other questions that are masking what you really want to ask: Will my child make the team? The coach may or may not know at that point how your child looks. Coaches probably have to spend some time thinking about what they saw in tryouts. Let the coach deliberate in peace and don’t fish for information.

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C. Contingency plan

A contingency plan is a plan designed to take a possible future event or circumstance into account.

In other words, what’s the next step if your child makes or doesn’t make the team?

If your child makes the team, congratulations! You may think you don’t need a contingency plan. But you really do, because now you must decide how you can best help your child have a good season.

But what if your child is cut from the team? You may think, oh well, that’s over, now we can move on. But that may not be the way your child is thinking, and the only way for you to know is to ask.

How do you feel about trying out again next year or next season?

If your children want that, then help them come up with options for ways to improve. Look for other teams where they can play to get game time, get them private coaching if you can afford it, or look for camps and clinics where your children can hone their skills.

I’ve known many kids who were cut from a team, only to come back and make the team the next year. And even if they don’t want to try out for that same team again, encourage them to find other leagues or teams where they can play the sport simply because they love to play the game.

Tryouts is just another part of the youth sports journey. Sometimes it is a good thing, sometimes it’s a disappointing thing, but it does not have to define your child’s entire youth sports experience. If your children love sports and want to play – whether or not they make the team – find other ways for them to enjoy the sport. Or maybe suggest they try other sports just for fun.

Janis B. Meredith is a life coach for sports parents. She provides resources to help parents give their children a positive and growing youth sports experience. Learn more about good sports parenting habits in her book 11 Habits for Happy & Positive Sports Parents, available on Amazon.