How To Get Through Sports Tryouts

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tryouts, sports, parenting, hockey, youth sports, player evaluationsAhh… it’s almost fall, which for many parents, especially those like us that have kids playing (ice) hockey, it means it’s time for the dreaded sports “tryouts”. Whether your organization calls them tryouts, placements or evaluations, it’s a stressful time for all. Kids wonder which team they will make, whether they will be with their friends, or parents wondering if they will also be with friends, or whether the season is going to be a challenge. So – how do you get through sports tryouts without losing your mind?

It’s Not About You

This is the most important thing – remember this is about your child, not you. It’s so hard when you pour your heart and soul into raising the perfect little human and want the ‘best’ for them. But, in the same way that you cannot 100% predict how your darling precious will turn out in life, nor can you predict the outcome of tryouts, or any sporting performance in general. It’s about them being happy with their performance, grateful for the opportunity to try, and then you being at peace with the result. It’s not easy sometimes – but try, for their sake and your own.

Focus Only On What You Can Control

Focus ONLY on the things you can control – which basically means encouraging your child to try and really focus on the coaching instruction, display good body language and attitude and ALWAYS give 100% effort. What else? FUN. This is a sport that they must enjoy – forcing a child to play a sport because you love it, or you think they’re good at it is not going to give a great result unless they also do. Your child should still be able to enjoy being out there and giving their best. Anything else? Nope. You cannot control how well other kids perform nor can you control who shows up at tryouts because they hated their old program and now have joined yours. You can’t control what other forces may be at play – whether a political situation, a long term potential situation, or anything else. You also have no say in what you think should be important to the coach in choosing their team.

Be Positive For Your Child

If you are a giant bag of nervous energy, leave. Your child will feed off your emotion. If you are nervous or stressed, your child will pick up the signs that you aren’t confident in them trying their best. If there is one parent who tends to be a little more pragmatic, then let them handle tryouts and take a break from it. Try and be calm, let your child know that you are proud OF THEIR EFFORT (not the result). If you do attend sports tryouts, and they’re over multiple days, ensure you are positive with your feedback – let them know how you loved watching them play hard and giving 100%. See it as an opportunity to praise them for something you know they’ve been working on. In our case, our little guy struggles with attention – so when we catch him displaying that behavior, we praise him for his effort.

Don’t Be Your Child’s Coach

Don’t try and ‘coach’ your child’s sport in the car or at the glass/rink/field/whatever venue your child plays at. Don’t analyze plays, because, I guarantee it – your kiddo will not remember and will only get the message that they somehow messed up. If your child plays hockey and you played in the NHL you’re probably a little exempt, but, only-ish. Times have almost certainly changed since you went through youth hockey – coaching methods are different. Most importantly though – if you’re not your child’s coach, then try to take a step back – encourage them to listen to THEIR coaches. That’s who are important in the sport they’re playing, not you. Not your experience. Not at this time.

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

Make sure your child gets plenty of sleep, good clean food and minimize things that you know unsettle them. If playing video games fries your child’s mental capacity, then talk with them honestly about it – the chances are, if their sports tryouts are really important to them, they’ll decide to skip them until afterwards. If they don’t, it’s important they take some responsibility for their choices. Our son generally doesn’t play video games during the school week, or before other things he wants to be focused at. He’s aware of how they affect him.
Sleep is an easy one – make sure your child has enough rest. Tryouts are exhausting, physically and emotionally.
Make sure they’re getting protein, vegetables, fruit and enough carbs to fuel them and replenish afterwards. Encourage good choices and make sure they are replacing the fluids they are losing. Minimize processed foods and dyes – our son is allergic to them, but, even if they’re not, dyes and additives can adversely affect cognitive skills. I will admit, I am a little bit of a control freak when it comes to food. In my case though, it’s par for the course when your child once had 19 food allergies and the slightest hint of dairy can still send them running for the loo within 30 seconds.

Be At Peace

Once tryouts are done, what then? Regardless of the result – have positives in your head and be ready to unload them. Playing a youth sport at any level is an amazing opportunity to learn so many life skills.

I remember our son a couple of years ago, curled in the foetal position, sobbing, when he didn’t make a team he really wanted to. Luckily, he was still on a team where he would be challenged and with some of his friends and these were easy selling points. By the time school started a couple of hours later, he was fine and excited to play that evening. Being with his friends was important to him and is a big part of the youth sports experience in general. He had new coaches (who were awesome), he learned a lot, and, as a team, the kids really developed over the season, resulting in a Runner Up finish in their division and a fun season. It was a season of fun, challenge, grit and gratitude for silver linings that felt more like gold at many times.

It was harder for us, as parents, to watch him struggle – we were disappointed for him and I can’t say that at the time we handled it with as much grace as we should’ve. But, time helped us process and learn, and just as our son did in his sport. We go into this year more prepared and more at peace with whatever happens – knowing that our son has worked really hard and is ready to go out and give 100% for the love of his sport.

Resilience – a Vital Life Skill

Resilience is one of the best lessons a kid can learn. It’s OK to not hit a goal once in a while – and how you respond to the challenge is more important in the long term. He didn’t quit – he worked harder and he loves the game he plays even more than he did before. Remember – it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Looking for some great reads on youth sports parenting?

Changing The Game Project

Working With Parents in Sport

Allistair McCaw

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