Trying Out For Competitive Teams (team sports)
Trying out for a competitive team, be it your local community team, a travel team, or a national team, can be a stressful experience. While others may seem nice before the tryout starts, once that competition whistle blows, it’s dog eat dog because you are competing against everyone for a coveted roster spot. In a game like lacrosse where two teams play head to head, you traditionally expect your team to be your support and to play together. While this is the goal within the game, tryouts can seem more stressful because in scrimmage or team formats, you compete against another team while also fighting for playing time and trying to stand out on your team. It goes against the norms of teamwork, support, and playing for more than yourself. It’s the one moment on a team when you are literally in it for you.
Here are tips to help you perform your best in tryouts:
It’s ok to be nervous before a game. If you are nervous, it shows you care.”
Feeling physically nervous is your bodies reminder that you are ready to play. As an athlete, you can choose to define physical symptoms like butterflies in your stomach, jittery hands, and that rush of energy as either positive or negative. It comes down to how you define those feelings with your self talk. In moments like this, novice athletes will hope for the best outcome by leaving it up to chance. They step into a game with the hopes that they will gain confidence and end up playing well. Instead of leaving it up to chance, here are tips to enter a tryout and or game with confidence.
Tip #1: Confidence Checklist for Tryouts
a. List reasons why you feel physically, technically (individual skill), tactically (strategy), and mentally prepared for the tryout. Meaning, write down your strengths as a player.
b. And in the same areas, write down your weaknesses.
c. Based on your strengths and weaknesses, identify how to play to your strengths and how to compensate for your weaknesses. While your weaknesses need work and improvement, they won’t handicap you if you have a plan. Meaning, take the time to identify your weaknesses and plan for how you will compensate for those challenges. And, plan how to play to the best parts of your game. Overall, you don’t need to play perfect, you just need to show up, give your best effort, be present focused, trust your skills, and commit to your plan of action.
d. Understand the mission and vision of the team. Are you trying out for a national team where winning is more important or are you trying out for a developmental team that stresses improvement? Which ever it is, figure out which type of team is best for you, right now. Make an informed decision when answering this. Talk to your past coaches, teammates, and parents to see if this team is the right fit and challenge for you. And in the end, trust your gut / intuition.
e. See tryouts through the lens of the coaches and evaluators. They are trying to best evaluate everyone not just one or two people. I.e., in a 20 minute scrimmage with 20 players per team, a coach is lucky to notice 1/2 the players on the field. Take time to get to know your coaches, and understand that they are evaluating your skill on the field, your character, how you manage challenging situations, and how you are as a teammate.
f. With that said, know what type of coach is evaluating you.
Examples of Coaches:
i. The Director: the coach that is there to tell players to do it a certain way.
ii. The Bro: they are there to be the hype man, meaning they are there to high-five players and get them excited to play.
iii. The Advisor: they are encouragers that give advice. They engage with the players and show genuine care and compassion.
iv. Stern Face, this coach is very stoic, they don't say anything or have very little to say. They are just there to watch and evaluate. Players see them watching and it can be intimidating.
g. As athletes, ask questions before, during, and after tryouts. You can learn what the coaches are looking for by talking to them. If you don’t make the cut, ask for advice on areas to strengthen. If you made the team, talk with coaches about the role you will play on the team.
In the end, remember to play to your strengths and play with effort. If you didn’t get picked for a team, it doesn’t make you a bad athlete. Chances are, you weren’t the right fit for that team. On the other hand, if you made the team, it doesn’t mean that you’ve earned time to play for the team. Remember to take it one day at a time, enjoy the process, and remember WHY you play your sport.
The chaos doesn’t end, you kinda’ just become the calm.
Tip #2: Find Your Calm
One of the best ways to find your calm is by putting trust in your teammates. In team sports, your successes and failures are based on the cohesion you develop with your teammates. Start small by finding a teammate or two whose play compliments yours. When you can work together with someone, your focus can be to bring out the best in your teammates so they can strive to do the same for you. Secondly, when you encourage and support others, it helps you to focus on the things that are helpful to perform, including positive self talk, focusing on what’s in your control, and playing to your strengths. It comes down to all the little things that help you play your best. When you can play your game you find your confidence and find your calm! And, it shows coaches your ability to be a good leader and team player.
“Don’t let what you can’t do interfere with what you can do.”
Tip #3: Coach-ability and Character
Coaches are there to evaluate you. They are at ground level to see how you act and react on the field and on the sidelines. When they coach you, they are seeing how well you listen, how you work with your teammates, if you ask questions, and if you are accountable for your actions vs make excuses. They also want to get to know you and see how you treat others including the coaches, referees, teammates, and the opponent. In sum, they want to see how coachable you are and to get a glimpse of your character.
You have to fight for playing time, carpe diem. Just because a teammate isn’t paying attention doesn’t mean you shouldn’t either. And, don’t wait for the coach to call your number. Protect your place in line and be ready to get in the game at any moment. On the field, seize your opportunity. You may only get one or two moments to shine so be ready, get into the action, and find moments to highlight your skills and be a little selfish. It’s for these reasons why tryouts are so stressful and overwhelming. It goes against the norms of teamwork, support, and playing for more than yourself.
Remember, it’s like a job interview. Highlight your strengths and know your weaknesses. Rise up to the challenge by being persistent and believing that you can do it. Whether you make the team or not, learn from the experience, build relationships, get comfortable with new challenges and environments, and identify why that moment was helpful, fun, and meaningful to you.
How to play your best:
a. Own your position and own your role. I.e., If you are a defender in lacrosse, focus on the individual and tactical skills necessary for your position.
b. Highlight your strengths. You don’t need to play amazing or in hero mode, you just need to play to your strengths.
c. Play selfish. Remember that you only have a few opportunities to highlight your skills, so take advantage of those moments in games / scrimmages. Be patient and seize your opportunities, don’t force it!
d. First time can be the worst time. You can feel overwhelmed by the whole experience. Remember to take it one moment at a time, be present in each moment, enjoy the experience, and be grateful for the opportunity to compete.
“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment”
Focus on you and what you can control, it’s the little things that help you to perform vs things that distract you. Distractions are mindset traps, while mindset tips are focusing on the thing that help you focus on the task at hand.
Mindset Traps At Tryouts Include:
a. Trying too hard to impress the coaches. This expectation leads to a perfectionist mindset where the focus is on not making mistakes and trying to play perfect.
b. Trying too hard also includes forcing things and doing too much. In these moments, you compromise your play because you are trying to be the Hero and are being too selfish.
c. Comparing yourself to other athletes. The biggest confidence killer and distraction is worrying about how you compare to others.
d. Worrying about making the team. This is a distraction because you are focusing on the outcome vs just playing in the moment.
Mindset Tips For Tryouts:
i. Coaches are trying to assess your strengths and weakness to see if you are a good fit for their team. They aren’t there to judge you and rank you from best to worst athlete. Talk to the coaches and see what they are looking for, and learn by taking the feedback from the coaches as well.
ii. Focus on the things in your control. This includes your effort, playing to your strengths, and how to manage your emotions so you can better act and react to mistakes and stressful situations.
iii. Stay focused in the moment. If you are worried about the future (I.e., making the team), you aren’t focused on what’s important to perform in the moment. However, when you just allow yourself to play, you can trust your instincts, and let your skills and abilities take over.
Success and failure are part of the sports experience. As you get to the higher levels and more competitive programs, it gets even tougher since you will always be fighting for your spot on the team. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your perspective, it’s part of the challenge. Embrace the moment, meet the challenge, learn from experience, and keep striving to be the best version of yourself!