It is rare for people to enjoy situations in which their ability is being evaluated. Especially, when the result of that evaluation means making the team, receiving a scholarship, earning a job offer, etc. These situations are especially challenging for our youth athletes because they are not experienced in this environment and generally struggle to handle the pressure that, most often, they place on themselves. The effects of this pressure are easily seen. Athletes become intimidated, feel anxious, play tighter, demand perfection, handle failure poorly, and walk away from those situations feeling as though they could have played better. Unfortunately, many times athletes and individuals have to learn how to deal with these situations the hard way through failure.
Failure is something we all will and should experience at some point. However, failure is going to happen enough in life on its own. Do our youth athletes have to miss out on those opportunities to really learn how to handle evaluation? What if the lesson could be taught ahead of time? Begin to consider how that would have changed things for you. What opportunities have you missed out on that you hope your child never has to? The following is a guide geared towards preparing youth athletes on how to handle the environments of tryouts and other evaluations. It doesn’t guarantee their success, nobody can. It simply provides them the mindset and tools necessary to place themselves in a much better position to succeed.
Increase Your Self-Awareness
Self-awareness can be defined as “conscious knowledge of one’s own ability” and it is the most powerful tool a young athlete can develop. Being self-aware means having a firm understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. It allows you to understand what kind of player you are and to show those strengths. At the heart of self-awareness is honesty, which isn’t easy. It is very tempting to try and be a player that you’re not during a tryout. Contact hitters who get on base a lot may attempt to become power guys and perform poorly. It is also tempting be something you’re not because you spend time comparing yourself to other players. Playing within yourself and to your strengths places you in the best position to succeed. Avoid the temptation to be something you’re not. It starts by consistently and honestly assessing who you are as an athlete and using that to your advantage.
Shift Your Frame Of Reference Internally
A critical mistake made during a tryout is the athlete spending too much time worrying about what coaches, parents, and other players are thinking. For example, if you make a great play during a tryout and the first thing you do is look around to see if your coach, your parents, or your friends saw the play, your frame of reference is outside of you. This is dangerous because you’re placing your ability to feel good or bad about your performance in the opinions of others. More importantly, it is incredibly distracting. How much time can you spend focusing on your play when you are worried about everyone’s opinion of you? This means it is more likely that you will make mistakes. As the result of you being concerned with what coaches might think, those mistakes now have more of an impact on you. This leads to even more mistakes, a poorer performance, and no fun at all. Instead, understand what you can control in the situation. You! You do the playing. Let the coaches do the evaluating.
Understand What Success Is
I’m sure I am going to get some “eye rolls” here and that’s ok, they won’t be the last. Your goal during a tryout is NOT to make the team. Yep, that’s right. Your goal can’t be to make the team during a tryout. That’s your goal every time you go workout and spend countless hours working on your skills preparing for the tryout. Its what motivates you to prepare. However at the end of the day, making the team is outside of your control. Like it or not, you could play perfectly or play poorly and still not make it. Accept that as reality. You’re goal during the tryout is the only thing that you can control. Show them the best version of yourself. You’re goal is to tap into every ounce of knowledge, skill, and ability you have as an athlete and bring that out during a tryout. Any other goal is simply a distraction that will take your focus away from where it needs to be. Understand that your reality for defining success is your choice and in your control, keep it that way.
It’s Going To Be Uncomfortable, And That’s OK!
The reason why tryouts are so intimidating is that they are well outside our comfort zones. You can in fact prepare for this. It begins by simply expecting that it isn’t going to be comfortable. You can either choose to accept it or spend the entire tryout battling it, trying and needing to find comfort to perform. Understand and accept that you don’t need to feel comfortable to perform well. Nervousness is actually good in most cases if handled this way. It causes your brain to become sharper and your body to react quicker. It’s all about the relationship you choose to have with being uncomfortable. Become comfortable being uncomfortable. If you want to practice beforehand, figure out what you aren’t comfortable doing right now and go do it (within reason). Expose yourself to being outside your comfort zone. The more knowledge you have about your own reaction to those situations the better off you’ll be.
Competition Can Either Be Your Best Friend, Or Worst Enemy
As you will quickly learn, I love Latin roots of words. Competition for example literally means, “together we strive”. Surprising? It was for me when I learned this. As a society, we have strayed far from this view on competition. We live in a world where the more someone else gets the less there is for me. We live in a world where someone else’s success is almost immediately viewed as your own failure. At its heart, we live in a world where competition means there will be a winner and there will be a loser. During the earliest years of the Olympics in Olympia, Greece, the competitions where meant as a celebration. Wait. What? A celebration? They invented these competitions as a way to celebrate athletic ability as a means so that everyone that competed go better, or “strived together”. I am not unaware that if someone else plays better than you and earns a spot on a team that that is one less spot for you. I get it. It sucks. However, we already established that the best outlook is to not be concerned with making the team. (See above) It would seem then that viewing competition as something beneficial, something that will help you play better, and something that will motivate you to improve is exactly what competition is there for in the first place! You can very easily worry about beating everyone else at that tryout. That’s a lot of distractions. It would seem obvious then which attitude about competition would serve you best. I get that you want to win. What’s the real win here?
In Summary, A Somewhat Brief Point On Confidence
I am often disappointed when I see many articles and videos about success make a point to say that it is important to have confidence. They often do so without an explanation of how confidence works or where it comes from in those moments. The reason I ended with confidence is because everything you have read to this point plays a role in creating confidence. See, it is a mistake to think that confidence itself is an isolated term. Confidence is a combination of factors that build a foundation through which confidence can exist. The Latin translation for confidence literally means, “being true to oneself.”
Confidence is a choice. Almost seems too easy doesn’t it? You can choose to be honest with yourself. Sound familiar? During a tryout, you can choose to recognize and be honest with who you are as an athlete and play your strengths rather than others. You can choose to not allow the opinions of others affect you and distract you from focusing on your own performance. You can choose to create your own reality by defining success as something that is within your control. You can choose to accept that many times in life you will not be comfortable and still perform well anyway. You can choose to view competition as something that will make you a better athlete. You can choose to be confident. It simply starts with understanding the decisions that need to be made.