Do you have a son or daughter who is trying out for a school sports team, or who is playing on a team for the first time? If so, this is certainly an exciting time. Along with the excitement, though, tryouts and being a first-time team member pose some unique mental challenges.
Adrenaline is a natural part of a tryout situation or being part of a team for the first time. Anxiety is also a natural emotion in new situations. Athletes tend to feel most anxious the night before or several hours before a competition. The anticipation of a competition usually produces the most anxiety and often subsides once the game starts.
As a parent, I think it is important to normalize for our children that feelings of anxiety and stress are common in new competitive situations. Anxiety is a natural part of competition. The challenge for athletes is to learn to relax when they start to feel overly anxious or stressed during a competition. In a tryout or first-time competitive situation, the best way to relax is to slow down, take a timeout, and take a deep breath. When athletes slow down, their heartbeat and blood pressure slows down, and they are better able to keep their emotions from getting too high or too low.
The hardest part of parenting a child in a tryout situation is the possibility of the child being cut from the team. Believe me, I know, having parented three children who were all cut at one point or another in their athletic careers. Whether it is fair or not, team selections are not always logical, fair, or objective.
Step 1 for when a child is cut is for the parents to be aware of their own feelings, which may be a combination of anger, surprise, shock, or fear about how this will affect their son or daughter. As a parent, it is really important to be aware of one’s own feelings so that they can be put aside when talking with your child. If a child is cut from a team, the goal of the parent is to listen to the child, offer support and in the right time and place, try to help the child identify a lesson learned from the experience that they can apply to future tryouts or team situations.
Being cut does not mean that your child’s athletic career is over. Remember, Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team the first time he tried out. Also, being cut from one sport may open an opportunity to learn or participate in another sport or tryout for another team. For children, there is tremendous value in being exposed to a variety of sports in order to try to find the one that is the best fit.
For a child, entering the world of competitive sports is like going into uncharted mental territory. Tryouts and being first-time team members can’t be scripted in terms of what the outcome is going to be. Parents, though, continue to play the most important role in helping their children navigate the competitive world of sports in order to learn the life lessons that being part of a sports team can teach.
Dr. Fish can be reached at email@example.com or via his website at www.psychologyofsport.com
Read more Sports Doc for Sports Medicine and Fitness.