Without a doubt, it’s the worst time of the year. If Christmas had an arch nemesis, it would be tryouts. I have coached travel soccer for almost 20 years and I hate tryouts. It is an awful feeling to cut or choose players for a certain team and then have to call the player or parent and explain to them why their kid is on the “B” or “C” team, when they thought they were an “A” player. Or maybe your kid was on the “A” team last year and was one of the top scorers, but at tryouts all the coaches thought she would be best suited on the “B” team this year. As a parent, you always want what’s best for your kid, so it’s hard to understand why the “B” team might be what’s best; and even harder to have to explain that to your young child. And then like many parents, you begin to question whether or not your current club is the best place for your kid, solely based on a decision made at tryouts by a few coaches.
The hard part is that the decisions at a tryout often feels like an end point because it comes at the conclusion of a season. So it is natural for parents and players to feel like their team placement is a culmination of what has happened the past year. But I do not believe that tryouts are an end point. What I do believe is that tryouts are just part of an ongoing process of learning and growth. I believe that every player has peaks and valleys, some higher than others, and some deeper. I believe that tryouts are a snapshot of where each player is AT THAT VERY MOMENT. Unfortunately, we, as coaches, have to place kids on a team to start the season. And do we make mistakes? Of course we do. So how do you navigate this whole tryout process, and how do you decide if a certain club is what’s best for your kid?
Here are some tips to help you navigate:
- Player AND Personal Development:
If your club/club directors are only concerned with winning championships and getting your kid a scholarship, and there is no mention of much else, RUN AWAY QUICKLY. EVERY COACH AND CLUB WANTS TO WIN AND GET THEIR KIDS SCHOLARSHIPS!!! But there has to be more. Sports should be a vehicle for growth, and it should teach players how to be good teammates, good leaders, and good people. Sports should teach players how to succeed and also provide an environment where the kids are comfortable enough to fail, knowing they will be applauded for their efforts, and picked up off the grass by their teammates and coaches. If there is no mention about how the club or team will help your kid develop on and off the field, then don’t expect much development of them as a person.
- I want my team and club to get stronger and more competitive
But at whose expense? What if at tryouts there were several new players and those new players took the spots that your kid was supposed to have on the “A” team? If you are truly wanting your team and club to grow, then you have to accept that new players will join the club…and you should welcome that. At the end of the day, as a parent, you have to model the team-first mentality, even though it might temporarily hurt your own child’s team placement and feelings. No doubt this is a tough predicament, so what do you do if you feel like your child in on the…(see next point)
- Wrong Team?? Accept the Challenge:
If your kid is placed on a team that you don’t feel is right, call the coach and ask her what are some things she needs to work on. And then tell your kid to work her butt off every day to show the coach that you are willing to work. It’s easy to go find a club these days where your kid would make the “A” team. But what that’s teaching them is not to face a challenge, but to run away from it and find a more palatable answer. And guess what will happen 20 years from now when they face a more difficult challenge??? Teach them to face the challenge now, so that 20 years from now they are telling their own children how they faced adversity head on. Help give them a story they are proud to tell. Don’t swoop in and be the hero every time. Let them be the hero of their own story.
- Don’t choose to stay or leave because of a certain coach:
Look, I think I’m a pretty decent coach, but you’re not always going to get a great coach like me:) In all seriousness, they are going to have varying levels of coaches, and life doesn’t always hand your kids what they want, but it sometimes hands them what they NEED. Be patient. Most coaches are really good people and they take a lot of time away from their own families and friends just to coach your kids, and most with very little pay. Allow your kid to navigate different coaching styles. No one is perfect.
- Don’t be a serial club hopper.
There are reasons to move to or from a club (see below), but if you are hopping just to see what’s out there and trying to find greener pasture, try looking at the grass you are standing on and weed and feed it. When you feed and water and take care of the grass you are on, it means that you are investing time and energy into developing your skills. And in the same breath, there will be weeds on that very ground, and you will need to work just as hard to constantly pull out the weeds that are hindering your growth. Remember, just like a skill, grass starts as a singular seed; what you choose to do with those seeds will determine how healthy the ground beneath your feet is. Be where your feet are and make your own grass a little more green each day.
- I pledge allegiance to the club…
It’s important that your kid forms strong bonds with teammates and has allegiance to a club, and gives back to that very club to help create a positive culture. Allow your child to grow some roots (I’m sticking with the grass metaphor for one more pointJ). Loyalty these days is a fading art form, and it would be nice to bring that back.
- There are reasons to move to a different club if…
- The club/coach fosters an unhealthy physical and/or psychological environment
- The current club does not challenge your child, nor do they offer opportunities to play up, etc. (This is usually seen in smaller clubs)
- On a regular basis, your child hates going to practice and is not having any fun (This could also be that your child no longer likes the sport–eek!)
- Obvious one here–the club does not have enough players for your age group
At the end of the day, we all need to remind ourselves that tryouts are part of the process of growing and learning, and that there is no real beginning or end. The highs and lows and tears and smiles are all part of this ongoing game of life. As a parent, it is your job to help your young player navigate through all the highs and lows. But one last tip: don’t walk in front of them and mow the grass down (ok, so one more grass reference). Walk with them just enough for them to know you are there to support them every step of the way so that one day, without them realizing it, they will step forward to make their own path. And in that snapshot of a moment you will know that all those tryouts were hard, but they were worth it. President Theodore Roosevelt said it best:
“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”