For young athletes, trying out for a coveted spot on a school or competitive local sports team can be both exciting and nerve-wracking. Preparing physically and mentally can help boost confidence and overall performance.
Experts at the Children's Health℠ Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Performance share five tips to help athletes perform their best at sports tryouts.
1. Train but don't overtrain
Tryouts, by nature, are often fast-paced and challenging. Ahead of tryouts, make sure you've taken steps to physically train – but be cautious not to overdo it.
"To ensure optimal performance at tryouts, the goal for athletes should be to arrive physically prepared and appropriately recovered," says Josh Adams, Senior General Manager with Children's Health Andrews Institute Sports Performance powered by EXOS. "Arriving at a tryout overworked can leave an athlete's energy depleted."
Adams encourages athletes to focus on general physical preparation – such as cardiovascular training and strength conditioning – just as much or more than skill-specific drills before an upcoming tryout.
Prepare for tryouts by focusing on strength, speed, explosiveness and endurance, skills that can be optimized through "regular strength training, jumping and sprinting," says Adams.
"Tryouts involve a high amount of physical activity, so ensuring that you are ‘in shape' and physically prepared is important," he explains.
2. Mentally prepare for tryout day
To handle jittery nerves before your tryout, athletes can try practicing mindfulness or calming exercises. To help prepare mentally, Kimberly Williams, LCSW, Behavioral Health Care Manager with Children's Health Andrews Institute, suggests:
- Visualization: Visualize yourself performing successfully during the tryout. Imagine yourself making the free throw, crossing the finish line or catching the pass.
- Listen to music: Listen to songs that you associate with success and favorable results.
- Mindful breathing: Be intentional about your breathing. Take an extended inhale breath, pause, then exhale deeply. Count as you slowly and evenly breathe in and breathe out. "While counting, your brain will focus only on your breath and less on your nerves," Williams says. See more ideas for breathing exercises.
It's important to resist the urge to compare yourself with others. Instead, arrive at the tryout, do the best you can, and leave feeling proud – no matter what happens. "Know your value and the worth you bring as an athlete and as an individual," Williams advises.
If possible, don't watch others' tryouts before or after your turn. "Focus on what you can control. Let go of the rest," Williams says.
3. Eat foods that best fuel the body
Try to eat a well-balanced meal two to three hours before the tryout to keep your body well-fueled. In addition to choosing healthy foods, it's also important to prioritize hydration to perform your best.
Try these meal suggestions, depending on the time of day of your tryout:
- Before a morning tryout: Enjoy scrambled eggs with wheat toast and a side of fruit.
- For an afternoon or evening tryout: Eat a turkey sandwich with an apple and a side of pretzels.
If there's no time for a full meal before the tryout, opt instead for a carbohydrate-rich snack such as a banana, orange slices, pretzels, toast or bagels. A small amount of protein like a boiled egg or a tablespoon of peanut butter may feel OK as well, depending on the athlete.
Athletes who struggle with an upset stomach when eating solid foods before strenuous physical activity may prefer a liquid option, such as a fruit smoothie, instead.
When choosing a pre-tryout meal, avoid eating foods that are especially high in fat or high in fiber – including salads, fried foods or fast foods. These foods demand too much work from your gastrointestinal system and can leave young athletes feeling sluggish or heavy.
Finally, tryout day isn't the time to try new foods. Instead, practice fueling with new foods well ahead of time, so you can observe how you respond in terms of digestion, energy, performance and mental clarity. Read more about what athletes should eat to perform their best
4. Get plenty of sleep
To perform well, make sure to get enough sleep leading up to tryout day. Research shows that not enough sleep can contribute to lower sprint times, reduced endurance and increased heart rate – as well as decreased focus and poor mood.
Sleep can affect athletic performance and deep sleep helps the body release hormones that help muscles repair.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children ages 6-12 regularly get 9 to 12 hours of sleep nightly, while teens ages 13-18 should aim for at least 8-10 hours nightly. Work to develop a sleep "regimen" including going to bed and waking up at about the same times each day.
5. Show your good sportsmanship
Above all, as you prepare to take the field on tryout day, work to demonstrate a devoted work ethic and good sportsmanship skills. Coaches want athletes on their teams who are good teammates and are coachable. If you prove you're willing to work hard, listen to feedback and have a positive attitude, you'll be much more likely to make the team roster.
Lastly, even though tryouts can be pressure-packed, remember why you play. Do your best to have fun and enjoy yourself.
The specially trained experts at Children's Health Andrews Institute Sports Performance powered by EXOS help young athletes perform their best while remaining healthy and safe. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.