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Overcoming the Anxiety of Tryouts

You’ve dreamed for years of trying out for your high school or travel team. You’re passionate, you work hard and you follow advice from all your coaches. 

As the big day approaches, you become more anxious. Before you know it, those voices of self-doubt start whispering in your ear. Why are you doing this? You’re not good enough. You’re not as talented as those other kids. On and on it goes, until you’re paralyzed with fear.

It’s perfectly normal to be nervous before a tryout. Even pro athletes who fight for a spot experience some form of anxiety. But when the fear of failure dominates your way of thinking, it often leads to poor performance, says Bill Cole, founder and president of the International Mental Game Coaching Association and a world-class sports psychologist in Silicon Valley, Calif.

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“Pressure is just another word for afraid to fail,” said Cole, who has coached thousands of youth and adult athletes in just about any sport you can think of. “There is the fear of the unknown. (Athletes) don’t want to be embarrassed. They unfortunately think that failing makes them less of a person. They may be fearful of being called a loser, and they equate their self-worth as a person with succeeding.”

If this sounds like you, Cole offers six strategies to overcome your anxiety and concentrate on giving your best performance.

Recall Previous Success

Visualize other tryouts or competitive events where you found success. How did you train physically? What did you do to mentally prepare for those experiences? Remembering what worked or didn’t work can bring you immediate confidence, and provide the necessary mental toughness to get you ready for the next event. Give yourself mental reminders like, “I did it before, I can do it again,” or, “this is tough, but I’ve been through worse, and I’ve been successful.”

Reduce Overthinking

Cole says the number one error in killing a successful performance is thinking too much. The best way to reverse the process is through more physical activity, or what he calls the “inverse relationship technique.” Try exercises such as staying on your toes, bending your knees and move your feet with short, quick steps. Increasing physical movement will give your body more dynamic energy, and you’ll spend less time on destructive thinking.

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Develop Mental Toughness

Just as your body needs to be physically prepared for competition, your mind must also be mentally tough. Instead of filling your head with self-defeating messages, give yourself motivational pep talks: “no one will give me this spot on the team; I’ll have to earn it”; “I refuse to lose”; “tough tryouts are good for me. They make me tougher”.

Welcome Support from Others

No one can achieve success at any level on their own. Cole advises parents to show empathy to their kids. Put yourself in your child’s place. Did you ever try out for a sport? When was the last time someone asked you to give a speech or make a big presentation at work? How did you feel? Were you nervous? That’s how your child feels. Remember that you have far more inner strength to draw from as an adult than he or she does at their young age.

Know What to Expect

Before trying out for a team, talk to the coach. Find out how you will be evaluated. Is the coach committed to building a positive team culture? What can you do to give yourself the best chance of making the team? These questions will help you determine whether that is the right environment for you and your skills.

Be Physically Ready

Make sure your body is in top shape to perform. Cole says many athletes fail to recognize the importance of warming up before competing. “I call the warm-up a make it or break it tool,” he said. “It’s more than physical calisthenics. It warms up the mind, body, and competitive spirit. The purpose of the warm-up is to feel completely ready to go.”

From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr.

Basketball, Baseball, Softball

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