“My kid is so stressed, she is so worried she won’t be able to play with her friends anymore,” a mom recently wrote us. “We have friends who tell us their daughter is physically ill with worry. She is 10!”

Sound familiar anyone? It is the annual rite of passage we call tryouts in youth sports, and it can be a horrible time for so many involved. Tryout season is upon us, at least in the youth soccer world where I coach, and it is so sad to see the massive pressure so many children feel in a sport that is supposed to bring them great joy. I am not saying that its not OK to have tryouts, but I truly think coaches, parents and clubs can do their kids some huge favors so that not only is this less stressful for them, but you actually get to see the best version of the player instead of the tight, tentative and scared 10 year old. Here are some ways we can all help:

CLUBS: It is understandable that at certain ages you begin to tier kids, but waiting as long as possible to do so is hugely important. And when you tier them, DO NOT MAKE IT A SELF FULFILLING PROPHECY! Allow player movement, let players train in teams that stretch them, and teams that do not. Give equal coaching to all tiers, not simply put your top coaches with your top group. And here is the big one. DO NOT ADD STRESS TO AN ALREADY STRESSFUL SITUATION. Forcing kids to make snap decisions and threatening them with losing their spot if they do not commit immediately is not the way to build a transformational organization. Tell them what you offer, let them try YOU out as well as you trying them out, and be patient. You will be a better club in the long run for it. 

COACHES: try to bring joy to a stressful situation, smile a lot, help kids relax, and stop treating children who still sleep with stuffed animals like they are mini adults. And once you pick your team, have the courtesy to speak directly with those you did not select, especially if they played for you in the past year. Be a human being to children and their parents. And finally, coach the kids assuming you got the selections wrong and not correct! In other words, pay attention to the B team, give those kids a shot, and make sure everyone develops. Becasue the younger the kids are, the more likely your selections are wrong in the long run. 

PARENTS: This time can be just as stressful for you, as we hate to see our kids disappointed and hurt. We can also be separated from our own friend groups if our child is cut from a team. Your children need you to be the adult in the room at this time. First, find organizations that focus on the human being and not just the athlete. Your kids do not have the life perspective to find the right club, but you do, and number of scholarships or wins is often a very poor indicator of how they will treat and develop your child. Second, take a look at the video and help your child deal with disappointment by asking what went well, what needs work, what can we work on in the short term to get better. Remember, as I say in the video, our job is not to prepare the path for the child, but the child for the path.

This tryout season, let’s not win the race to the bottom. Let’s focus on the kids and be the adults they need right now! What do you think, are there other ways clubs, coaches and parents can ensure this si a positive experience for their kids?


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