Q: [School Age] My son is trying out for a team for the first time and completely stressed out. How do I help him relax and do his best, or worse yet, deal with it if he doesn’t make the cut?
A: With the competition level so fierce in athletics and other performance-based activities, it is no wonder that many young people today struggle with self-esteem issues and experience higher than normal stress levels. Anytime a person is put in a position where he or she is judged it is stressful and scary. Many times, reminding young people that you understand and care about them and that those feelings are normal and valid goes a long way. Trying out for a team or club can be very anxiety provoking for kids and parents play a vital role in helping them stay happy and healthy.
In my practice, I strongly encourage parents to be open and realistic with their kids about the possibility of rejection and “not making it.” Don’t tell them that they are good and will make the team if they are a beginner or have limited skill level. Instead, parents should help their kids identify the skills and training they will need and, more importantly, where they are in that process currently, in order to have a greater chance of being selected. A reality check will significantly increase the chances of the child feeling secure and good about themselves even if they are not selected.
When the tryout is approaching, help kids visualize success and performing at a high level. Have them see the ball go through the net, hitting a line drive, or singing with good pitch and tone. Also, have him or her identify and rate their own stress level (use a scale from 1-10, low to high) and then use deep breathing exercises in order to manage it when it gets too high.
If the worst case scenario for your child happens and they don’t make the cut, it is important that he or she receives appropriate emotional support and empathy from family members. Help him or her focus on and identify both strengths and areas of improvement. Validate your child’s negative feelings and encourage him or her to practice and work on improving his or her skill level.
At the end of the day, remind your child that failure can either be final or it can serve to breed future success.
Matt Fleischman, LMFT
Matt Fleischman earned his Masters in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University and currently practices at The Weichman Clinic at renowned Hoag Hospital, Newport Beach and is the South OC director of Chiron Behavioral Health.