As a coach or caregiver, it’s easy to forget the anxiety and nerves that come up for athletes around team tryouts. Or maybe you have an experience of your own that you remember and shudder about decades later! But how do you hold tryouts and make the right selections for your team while still helping athletes navigate those nerves?
Your actions before, during, and after tryouts can make the process less intimidating and more fun—while still ensuring that your team has the right blend of athletes. Here, Amanda Stanec, PhD, kinesiologist and the founder and owner of MOVE + LIVE + LEARN, shares a few tips for how to best help athletes thrive in tryouts this season.
Help Athletes Understand that Some Anxiety Is Actually a Good Thing
Not all anxiety is bad: In fact, some level of anxiety can be positive, and anxiety can be sending us messages that we need to adjust our actions in order to be better prepared. Additionally, common levels of anxiety are a part of life, and sport is a great way for athletes to learn to cope with anxiety so they can apply such skills off the field of play, now and in the future. “It is normal that kids feel a bit anxious before tryouts and that’s because they care,” says Stanec. “If coaches and caregivers talk to their kids about it, then it should be in that context. Say things like, ‘You feel anxious? That’s normal and tells me that you care about the tryout, which is appropriate. But all you can control is your effort and attitude so focus on doing your best and staying determined and positive and you can be proud of yourself.’” And if your athlete isn’t talking about their nerves, don’t bring it up: There is no need to put it in their heads!
Be extremely clear about the tryout process.
Often, anxiety that is unhelpful stems from an athlete’s nerves around unknown elements. What exactly will they need to do at tryouts to make the team? The more information you can share with all athletes about the try out the better. This can be done at a pre-tryout meeting or in written form—just make sure it’s accessible to all, not just athletes who have been on the team in the past. “Coaches should also let athletes know to focus only on what they can control: their attitude and effort,” says Stanec. “Encourage athletes to visualize themselves participating in the tryout while giving their best effort and staying positive when they make mistakes. Remind athletes that everyone, even the best athletes in the world, make mistakes in competition and practice and that making mistakes is really one of the only things guaranteed in sport.”