7 Ways to Mentally Prepare for Team Sports Tryouts

Perform for Yourself

A lot of performance anxiety stems from the need to seek social approval from others. If this sounds like your son or daughter, he or she might feel the need to be liked, admired, accepted or respected. Your child may worry about performing poorly and think this will have a negative influence on what others think.

Athletes who seek external approval and validation have a tendency to be fearful or anxious. The need for social approval is the root of the fear of failure. This is the case for many of the students that I work with; athletes look to others for approval so they can feel better about themselves.

If you can help your kids understand why they value (sometimes too much) others' opinions, you can help them develop self-respect instead of relying on external acknowledgement.

Don't Try to Be Perfect

An important lesson I teach my students is to learn how to perform efficiently instead of perfectly. I call this a functional mindset.

A functional mindset begins with the idea that an athlete doesn't have to be perfect to perform their best. Athletes are human, and humans can't be perfect. Kids need to understand that mistakes are inevitable; they're a part of sports and can often serve as important learning opportunities.

More: How to Help Young Athletes Learn From Mistakes

Be Confident

My definition of self-confidence is how firmly an athlete believes in his or her ability to perform a task or execute a skill. Confidence is derived from a baseline assessment of past performance, training and preparation. As an athlete's skills improve, his or her confidence becomes proportionately stronger.

Confidence can be a cure-all for the mental setbacks an athlete may encounter. If a child or teen has high self-confidence, they're less likely to get anxious or nervous because they believe they will perform well. An athlete with confidence can remain relaxed and focused rather than worrying about the competition or a negative outcome.

Some athletes start doubting themselves before they even begin tryouts. They may struggle with doubt due to a past performance or mistake; this can sabotage an athlete's confidence.

It's important for you as a parent to help your child learn from their mistakes rather than dwelling on them. The first step to overcome self-doubt is to be aware of the thoughts that can affect confidence. The next step is to counter the doubts with positive thoughts that can lead to a better outcome.

Focus on the Process, Not the Results

This mental technique is helpful when athletes compete, but only if they focus their attention on "performance cues" which help them play their best. A performance cue is any thought, feeling or image that helps an athlete execute a skill.

Many of the athletes I work with tend to overload their brains with too much information—more than they can handle at one time. Information overload sends mixed signals to the body. In this state, the body can't execute at its full potential. Once an athlete defines performance cues, he or she will be able to eliminate distractions and be more focused—an important quality to be stay present and be "in the zone" in sports.

More: 5 Dos and Don'ts in Youth Sports

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About the Author

Dr. Patrick Cohn/Lisa Cohn

Award-winning parenting writer Lisa Cohn and youth sports psychology expert Dr. Patrick Cohn are co-founders of The Ultimate Sports Parent. Pick up their free e-book, "Ten Tips to Improve Confidence and Success in Young Athletes."

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