Spring sports tryout tips: Be early, be prepared, be confident

If you are a young athlete, you have probably been to a tryout. If your child is in high school, spring sports tryouts might be starting this weekend.

Tryouts can cause trepidation among athletes and their parents, but they don’t have to if you are prepared and have the right attitude going into them. They also represent a terrific opportunity to learn about ourselves.

Whether you are heading to the baseball, softball, lacrosse or soccer field or the court for spring basketball or volleyball, or you are keyed into another sport, here are 10 tips to help you put your best foot forward:

1. Don't go into a tryout cold. Make sure you are ramped up for that specific sport.

You might be playing a different one during the wintertime. That’s completely fine, as coaches love all-around athletes and playing multiple sports promotes overall health and a strong lifelong athletic profile.

However, if you’ve been playing a different sport, it’s especially important to get in reps at the sport to which you will be shifting. You may be proficient at the sport for which you are trying out, but tryouts are usually spaced over only a few sessions so you can't afford to be rusty.

High school baseball is about to start. Here are tips for preparing for tryouts.
High school baseball is about to start. Here are tips for preparing for tryouts.

More important, you want to avoid an injury to muscles you might not have tested much of late. Make sure you are ramped up to try out for this season's sport.

And make sure you practice beforehand in the climate in which you will be trying out. You may have thrown indoors for baseball, but you can also practice outdoors in cool weather if those will be the conditions for your tryout.

2. Ensure the coach knows you before the tryout

High school coaches offer informational and “optional” workout sessions for players trying out for their teams. Go to as many of these as you can. The coach will likely tell you those sessions have no bearing on your consideration for the team, but they can only help you show what you can do.

You have nothing to lose. If you do well, you will be in the back of the coach’s mind. If you don’t, you have an opportunity to show out again at the tryout, or even show you have gotten better with more practice since he or she last saw you.

If you have been playing another sport that prevents you from attending these unofficial offseason workouts, reach out to the coach on your own. Send them an email and follow it up with a visit to their classroom to introduce yourself. Most high school kids won’t have the courage to do this; show the coach you do.

If you aren’t in high school yet, sending a personal email to the coach might be a refreshing change for someone who is bombarded by notes from parents about their kids. Introduce yourself, briefly tell the coach about your skills and tell him or her you are excited about trying out for their team.

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3. Get to the tryout early to warm up and certainly don't be late

You can only improve your chances by showing up early. This is also an opportunity for you to meet the coach if you haven’t already done so. Introduce yourself (or reintroduce yourself) when no one else is around. If you aren't in high school yet, it's OK if your parent walks over to the coach with you, but make sure it is you who begins the conversation with the coach, not your mom or dad.

Arriving early will also allow adequate time for you to begin the tryout with your traditional routine, whether it be stretching, light running or light band work. Being within your own routine will put you at ease. The coach will also see that you’re serious about making this team. If you arrive with the crowd, you're more likely to blend into it.

4. Remember: Coaches are always watching you at a tryout

From the moment you arrive at the field, court or rink, you are trying out. The coaches will likely be watching your every move. Don’t blow your chances because of something within your control.

Arrive like you have a sense of purpose, do your warmups and visualize yourself doing well once the tryout begins. Keep conversation with other kids to a minimum, even if they are your friends. (Tell them you will talk about the tryout later.) And certainly don’t goof off.

You’d be surprised by the number of tryouts my now-teenaged sons have attended where coaches have had to tell kids to stop talking and to focus on the tryout. Talking excessively is almost a guaranteed “X” next to your name. If the final roster spots are between you and a few others, your behavior at the tryout – positive or negative in the coach’s eyes – might be the deciding factor in whether you get cut.

5. Don't stand around or be passive at a tryout; it can only hurt you

Hustle everywhere you go on the field or court. Go the extra step and pick up loose equipment between drills or after the tryout is over. Hustle while you do these activities, too.

There inevitably will come a moment when the coach asks for a volunteer to demonstrate a drill or activity. Be that volunteer. It’s an extra opportunity to assert your enthusiasm and calmly and confidently demonstrate your skills. Even if the coach picks someone else, your eagerness is likely to be noted.

6. Be confident in yourself at the tryout (notice I didn't say cocky)

Don’t be nervous. If you have prepared adequately, there is nothing to be nervous about. Now it’s time to prove what you can do.

Play with confidence but don't brag to the coach or other players about what you can do. Show them on the field.

Parents, your kids take their cues from you. Even if you are nervous about the tryout (we all get nervous), try not to show it to your kid. Maintain an even demeanor up to and on the day of the tryout. You want your kid to be relaxed like he or she is at any other practice.

Make sure your child has enough (but not too much) to eat and go about a normal daily routine. When you drop your son our daughter off at the tryout, say a word or two of encouragement like “I believe in you” or “go get ‘em.” Avoid saying anything like “make sure you …” or “Don’t forget to …” Leading up to the tryout, you can make calm suggestions but you only want be a source of encouragement on tryout day.

7. Go into the tryout knowing you are going to make mistakes

If you are trying out for a high school or travel team, most everyone there will be talented. Coaches will be looking for ability, yes, but also how players react to situations.

If you throw a pass out of bounds, miss a tackle, boot a ground ball or shoot a ball or puck wide of the goal, think of it as a opportunity to show the coaches how you react to adversity. Players who can quickly move on from errors not only ultimately help the team win, they set strong examples for their teammates.

Think body language. If something doesn’t go as you planned it, try to maintain the same demeanor. Don’t get down on yourself if you miss a shot. Don’t slump if a call goes against you while you are scrimmaging. Instead, keep your shoulders high and move on to the next play.

8. Show you are a team player but remember to leave your own mark at the tryout

Be encouraging to other players as you run through scrimmages and drills. If they make a mistake, pat them on the shoulder or tell them, “Keep your head up.” Doing so will not only impress the coaches but will also help your overall development as a teammate.

Make sure you are doing team-oriented things. Pass as well as shoot if you’re playing basketball, soccer and lacrosse. If you’re trying out for baseball, demonstrate you can bunt and hit to the right side to advance baserunners

However, when you have an opportunity to score, take advantage of it. Take the shot when you’re open and try to score from second base on a single if you know it’s going to be a close play. Flourishes like this will help you leave your mark.

9. Use getting cut at a tryout as motivation ...

All of these tips operate under the assumption you have practiced and are prepared for the tryout. Practice builds confidence, and the more you practice, the more confident you will be for the tryout.

Still, some tryouts are really competitive. Odds are you will be cut at some point in your life. Even Michael Jordan and Caitlin Clark were cut from teams.

If you are cut, ask the coach why and what you can do to try and make the team the next time around. Maybe getting cut will give you the drive and motivation you need to get better.

If you are in high school and serious about the sport from which you have been cut, ask the coach if you can be a student manager for the season. Being around the team will help you see exactly what the coach expects and put you in good standing with him or her for next season.

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10. ... or recognize this team might not be a fit

Cuts can also open up an opportunity to try something new. Maybe there’s another sport you'll find you like better. Sports like track, wrestling and rowing are rigorous and character building and often don’t have cuts. As long as you aren’t overdoing it from a physical standpoint, such sports of attrition can teach you discipline.

Most of all, don’t sweat rejection. Think of tryouts as opportunities to learn about what you’re capable of doing, now and in the future.

Steve Borelli, aka Coach Steve, has been an editor and writer with USA TODAY since 1999. He spent 10 years coaching his two sons’ baseball and basketball teams. He and his wife, Colleen, are now loving life as sports parents for a high schooler and middle schooler. For his past columns, click here.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tryout tips: How athletes can improve chances for spring sports teams