Is your child ‘rep’ material? If your family has a young athlete who shows talent and ambition in a given sport, tryouts are part of the game.
Rep programs tend to have access to top-quality coaches, equipment, facilities and practice time. Team members are expected to take the game seriously and compete at a high level. They practise more frequently, travel to tournaments and wear special team gear. Being on an elite team can also be a status symbol among peers.
While being on the team has plenty of perks, the process of trying out can be stressful for aspiring rep athletes. They’re keenly aware that they are competing against their peers for a roster spot. They have to perform their best in a limited number of sessions, often in the evenings when they may be tired from their day at school. The technical drills of a tryout put their skills under a microscope, making them extra conscious of their strengths and weaknesses. They may feel nervous, unsure, and apprehensive.
Parents inevitably feel the tension, too. Karen Kueneman, a mom of athletic 13-year-old twin boys and a sporty nine-year-old daughter, has endured many rounds of hockey and soccer tryouts in Waterloo, Ont. “I always feel physically nauseous during the tryout period,” she says. “The kids train and prepare, then put it all on the line to be judged by others. The uncertainty of how things will turn out is unsettling.”
Despite the natural feelings of worry and anxiety, parents need to be a source of stability during tryout time. “It is important for parents to model calmness and effective coping,” says Robert Woods, a psychotherapist in Houston, Texas who specializes in working with youth. Robert can personally relate to the challenges of the tryout process, as he played professional football for four seasons in the CFL and NFL. His advice to parents is to “encourage kids to do their best, and help them accept that the tryout is one experience and not an all-or-nothing situation.”
The big post-tryout question – “did I make it?” – is answered a little differently these days. While sometimes the news is shared in writing or in a meeting with the coach, many minor sports organizations now use their website to communicate the news. A typical online posting will show the names of players invited to return for the next tryout, and those not on the list are ‘released’ (a newer term for ‘cut’).
Since kids will tend to focus on the success or rejection, parents should strive to provide balance and perspective. As Karen points out: “Kids have a minuscule chance of becoming an adult superstar in their sport. In 10 or 15 years, they will all be playing together in a weeknight pick-up league, and all these arbitrary levels and rankings will be meaningless.”
The meaningful part of any youth sport experience is rooted in friends, exercise and fun. From a psychological standpoint, Robert says: “being involved in sports can help kids develop social skills, learn the value of teamwork, and build character through wins and losses.” When you look at it that way, those lessons can be taught on any team, regardless of whether it’s ‘rep’ or ‘rec.’
Healing the cut
In the aftermath of a tryout, your child may face the disappointment of not being selected for the team. Here are some ways to help kids cope with the letdown:
- Don’t wait up. Online roster postings can occur late in the evening. Keep their usual bedtime and check the website in the morning when they’ll be rested and better equipped to handle the news.
- Validate their efforts. Focus on the positive, and be specific. Praise ‘intangible’ skills like working hard and listening attentively to the coach. Encourage them to talk about their feelings and verbalize what they think they did well.
- Know the next step. Proactively research the next level of play available to your child, and assure him that he will be playing his sport this year. He may even be happier at a ‘house league’ level, with a more reasonable time commitment and less competitive pressure.
- Avoid rescuing your child all the time. Give your kids the chance to work through the disappointment rather than rushing to make them happy. This allows them to build coping skills.
- Be realistic. Resist the urge to promise “You’ll make it next year.” If your child shows an inner drive and desire to improve, consider registering for additional skill sessions or camps.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, December 2013.