So you’re ready to let your child tryout for a travel team. They have (hopefully) already played some form of organized sports and want to take it to the next level. This post provides some tips for the tryout process generally. These tips are designed to apply to virtually all sports, rather than, say, soccer, softball, basketball, or baseball specifically.
Obviously, each sport that your child may be trying out for has its own required skills and abilities. The strategies listed here assume that your child has roughly the right talent level for the team they are pursuing. These tips are designed to help them stand out (positively) from the crowd!
1. Be On Time! (That means EARLY!)
The posted start time for a tryout isn’t a target. It’s the exact time at which the coach expects to have all of the players present and accounted for. Often, you will be asked to arrive a certain amount of time before the stated start time. That is designed both to allow time for registration and to make sure that people who have a hard time showing up on time still don’t show up late.
Note the earliest time mentioned in the tryout notice and then get there earlier! It is hard to imagine any situation where your child will be penalized for showing up too early! If you get there before the coaches, then either sit in the car or get out and start warming up. Stretching, for example, is never a bad idea (usually a good one). You won’t be faulted for having your child warmed up and ready to go when it’s time to start the tryout.
On the other hand, most coaches will notice is a player is late. Sure, you might get lucky and slip in unnoticed. But, really, an athlete that is trying out for a team doesn’t want to be unnoticed. They should be noticed doing something that sets them above others.
2. Look the Part
By the time your child is trying to join a travel team, they should have enough experience with the sport that they and you know how the sport works at some basic level. This includes what equipment and attire is appropriate for practice. Don’t send your child out there looking like they are just going to the park to play a pick-up game. Show the coaches that you have already invested in the type of shirts, pants, and shoes that they will be expected to wear to practice.
It doesn’t have to be a full uniform, but it can be a full uniform. But use some judgment. Generic attire is usually better than something that could potentially offend anyone. If your child played on the rival team last year, wearing that uniform to the new team’s tryout isn’t the best idea.
If you’re supposed to bring a ball or other equipment, then bring. Water bottle . . . check. In general, help your child look like they have done this before.
Now, especially at the younger levels, I’m not suggesting that you have to outfit your child in all top-dollar gear. You can’t (or shouldn’t try to) get your child on the team only because you can afford to buy a whole bunch of expensive workout gear and accessories. Let it be their talent and personal characteristics that earn them the spot. Otherwise, they probably won’t enjoy the experience anyway. But you don’t want to ruin their chances by wearing jeans and a sweater either. The coaches probably won’t intentionally judge fashion or style, but they will at least see whether your child fits in.
3. Follow Directions
We’re mostly talking about the athlete trying out here, but this applies to parents as well. Coaches don’t want to put up with people who can’t or won’t do what they ask.
Remind your child to focus on the coaches when they’re being spoken to. If the coach says everyone line up over here, then they need to line up. They shouldn’t have to be told twice. Time is precious for tryouts. If someone is wasting it, that’s a problem.
Parents too. If the coaches ask all the parents to stand in one corner, then stand in that corner. Don’t decide that you’re the exception. You’re not. Or at least, you don’t want to be. In this case, the exceptions (or their children) don’t make the team.
This should really go without saying. Coaches don’t want lazy players on their teams. They want highly motivated players, for at least two reasons. First, they want players who will benefit from their coaching. Second, they want the team to succeed.
Sure, there are star athletes who can turn it on during games, but slack off during practice. But we’re talking about youth travel team tryouts here. The coaches are, for the most part, picking their teams based on what they see at the tryout. There is no excuse for giving less than full effort.
What does hustle mean? It means moving with purpose throughout the tryout. It doesn’t necessarily mean going full speed from start to finish. In drills, practice at game speed. Between drills, don’t sit/lean/walk; instead, stand at attention, ready to go when called and move at a brisk pace from station to station.
Remember: talent is one thing being measured, but effort is another. Effort is at least a great tiebreaker, and for some coaches, the more important factor. If nothing else, when it comes to picking the last spot on the team, most coaches are going to err on the side of the kid who was giving his all over the guy who seemed to be a little more talented but wasn’t showing it.
5. Be a Good Teammate
We are talking about travel team tryouts. The coaches are trying to put together the best team. They are not obligated to pick only the best athletes. They need a group of young athletes that will work together well to achieve success, however they measure that.
The players should compete hard during the tryout, but not at all costs. In most cases, aggressiveness is part of the sport, but that doesn’t mean your child can’t be polite. If they knock someone down, they should help them up (assuming the “play” is over, anyway). If they win a drill, that’s great, but they shouldn’t rub the other players’ nose in it.
Communication comes in here too. Remind your child to talk to his teammates when they are working together in a drill. This shows leadership, which all good teams need.
Young athletes should also be able to speak to their coaches, even though they are adults. If they don’t understand what they are supposed to do, they should ask. This shows that they are committed to following directions and getting it right, not just guessing at risk of letting everyone down.
Although it’s probably not essential to go this far, there’s also nothing wrong with your child congratulating other players for doing something well. If a player makes a great play, it’s fine for your child to give them a pat on the back or say “good job.” If the effort/result was remarkable, then the coaches probably saw it to that player’s benefit anyway. But if they see another player congratulate the play it shows three things about the second player: (1) they’re paying attention even when it’s not their turn, (2) they know enough to recognize good performance in the sport, and (3) they’ll encourage teammates to do well once they make the team!
6. Be a Good Sideline Parent
The old adage of being seen, but not heard comes to mind here. But the roles are reversed. This is your child’s team to make, not yours. For the most part, once you get them to the tryout, you can only hurt their chances, not help.
Coaches really don’t want to hear the parents during the tryout. If they could, they would probably not have them there. But they know you want to watch, and that’s fine. But be quiet. I mean, cheering for your child at a respectable level is acceptable. But yelling at them is a big no-no!
I don’t doubt that you’ll see things your child could be doing better during the tryout. If you’re taking the time to read this, then you’re hopefully getting some more ideas now. But the right approach is to subtly make suggestions to your child before the tryout, not coach them during it. If you have to say something, then wait for a break and whisper it to them while they’re getting water. Make sure whatever you say primarily includes encouragement though.
This point is worth really hammering home. So, consider this. On one hand, if you have some really indispensable advice for your child, why would you yell it out so that all the other kids hear it too? On the other hand, if you’re yelling out because your child is doing something wrong, then you’re emphasizing the flaw and making sure the coaches notice. More importantly, the coaches notice you and may decide they don’t want to deal with your antics at practices and games, no matter how talented your child is.
7. Talk to the Coach
Okay, so I just lectured you not to be too vocal during the tryout. Sorry, not sorry about that. But I don’t want you to go away thinking you can’t talk to the coaches. You can and should, as long as you do it at the right time and in the right way.
As long as you’re not interrupting the coach in the middle of something, it’s fine to introduce yourself and your child to the coach before or after the tryout. The best time to do this is when you’ve shown up early and the coach is just standing around waiting for most of the players to arrive (see Tip #1!). Ideally, if you’re child isn’t really young, they would talk to the coach on their own. This shows maturity, confidence, even leadership. All good signs for the coach!
Beyond a simple introduction, it’s totally appropriate to ask reasonable questions. You should, of course, be respectful of the coach’s wishes. If she specifically says she can’t stay after the tryout, but will answer all questions by email, then use email! If he says he prefers calls on his cell phone during certain hours, then call during those hours! But if the coach comes over to the parents after (or even during) the tryout and says, “I’m happy to answer any questions,” then that means he’s happy to answer your questions.
Generally speaking, you should err on the side of asking versus not asking. Depending on the circumstances (and assuming you haven’t been yelling out at your child during the tryout–Tip #6!), the coach may not even connect you with a player at this point. So, if your question is specific to the player, you may need to note who your child is. But if your question is general (and especially if you’re afraid you may be asking a bad question), then you can take some solace in your relative anonymity
For the most part, your questions should be about logistics. Will there be more tryout dates? When will practices begin? When will the season end? These are all fair game, as the coach: (a) wants to maximize opportunity to evaluate your child and (b) doesn’t want to put someone on the team who will have serious timing conflicts.
Certain other questions should be avoided. “Will my child make the team?” is the prime example. Answering that question is the whole purpose of the tryout process. You will get the answer when it’s available. Asking at the tryout probably won’t deny your child a place on the team if they are otherwise deserving, but it’s a waste of everyone’s time. If this is the best subject you can think of to discuss with the coach at this point, then just wait until you get the answer before talking to him.
8. Take a Shot
This piece of advice ranges from the literal to the figurative. In some sports, of course, shooting is part of the game. Soccer, hockey, and basketball are examples of those. But this tip applies in other sports, such as baseball and softball, too.
What I generally mean here is that your child shouldn’t be afraid to try to do something to stand out and impress the coaches. Assuming they have requisite base talent and have followed the other tips here, there’s usually no harm in trying to show the coaches how they can do something exceptional.
In sports where the object is to score goals, this could mean literally taking a hard shot and making it. But it could also mean trying a difficult pass or making an all or nothing defensive play. Of course, they can’t always shoot, always pass, or always go for broke on defense. We’re talking about taking a chance once in a while once they’ve otherwise demonstrated that they can play it safe and achieve the standard result when that’s warranted.
Unless the timing is really poor, trying to make a difficult play and coming up short isn’t likely to cost your child a spot on the team. However, if the play works out, it may wow everyone on the sidelines and impress the coaches. Sometimes in sports you get in a tough situation where there’s nothing to lose, so it may be worth taking a shot on a kid who just might be able to pull out a win!
9. Evaluate the Opportunity
The tryout process really isn’t a one-way street.You and your child have an important role in determining the composition of the team. Yes, the coaches pick the teams. But they can’t force anyone to play.
I know I said the coaches might prefer that parents weren’t at the tryout (Tip #6). That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be there. You should, as long as you can be respectful of the process. And you need to pay attention. If you don’t like the coach or the other players, or even their parents, then do what’s best for your family. In addition to weighing your own observations, you should check with your child after the tryout process to see what they think about the coach, the players, and whatever else comes along with it. If they aren’t going to enjoy being on the team, then either look for a different team or try travel sports another time.
10. Have Fun!
If you’re child isn’t going to enjoy being on the travel team for the next year, then it’s not worth it. But unless and until you and they reach that conclusion, they should both have fun and show it! There’s nothing wrong with a smile at tryouts, especially when meeting the coach beforehand.
Following all of these tips helps everyone enjoy the tryout experience. Even if your child (or you) can’t remember all of this advice, you can remind them to have fun and that will get them through the process. As long as they follow that rule, then they’ll end up on the team if it’s meant to be. If not, just find something else that makes them happy. This is youth sports. It’s not life or death. And there’s always next year!