Knee pads? Check. Volleyball shoes? Check. Calm state of mind? Umm …
When helping youth athletes prepare for volleyball tryouts, parents and coaches typically focus on the basics – wear the right gear, warm up, execute the drill – and often overlook mental preparation.
But for young volleyball players, mentally preparing for tryouts can be the difference between making the team or being left off a roster.
These tips can help kids get into the right state of mind for tryouts.
Quiet the anxieties
The pressure that youth volleyball players put on themselves to perform well during tryouts can result in added stress and anxiety.
Dr. Justin Anderson of Premier Sport Psychology said it’s normal for kids to have some anxiety during tryouts.
“Anxiety isn’t a bad thing,” Anderson said. “It’s your body getting ready.”
The challenge is for athletes to learn to control the anxiety and not let it hinder their performance.
“We help them realize there are strategies for how to manage the escalations,” Anderson said.
One tactic Anderson recommends is a breathing technique. He instructs athletes to take a 10-second breath (five-second inhale, five-second exhale) to help slow down their heart rate and get into a calm state. If an athlete is feeling stress before a serving drill, for example, he or she can take a few moments to perform the breathing exercise before it’s their turn at the line.
Anderson also works with athletes to help divert their attention when needed. He teaches athletes that they can shift their attention from one thing to another to improve their mental state. At tryouts, athletes are focusing on whether or not they will make the volleyball team. Coaches and parents can help them calm themselves by diverting their attention to something else, such as a specific drill or exercise. Instead of letting a visibly anxious player spend time at the back of the gym counting how many athletes are competing for a roster spot, engage the player in conversation about how to perform the upcoming digging drill, or walk through hitting footwork to help take the athlete’s mind off the stress that tryouts can often bring.
Anderson states youth athletes may think their entire identity is tied to their connection to a sports team. Young players might only see themselves as volleyball players and base their identity on being part of the volleyball club. That could be where they met their friends and their main source of both physical and social activity.
For these athletes, it’s important to help them keep perspective as they head into tryouts. They need to see there are options outside of this particular volleyball team in case they don’t make the roster.
Anderson recommends coaches and directors be upfront with athletes at the beginning of evaluations. Telling kids there will be cuts, and then giving them options of other volleyball teams or leagues they can join, can help kids understand their volleyball career doesn’t have to end after tryouts. Provide the kids with a list of community volleyball camps or instructional leagues they could potentially join if they don’t make the club.
Anderson said parents can help kids by teaching them how to cope with the results if they don’t make the team. Together they can create a path to join a new volleyball league, figure out a way to improve for next year or even try a new sport or activity.
Be confident in yourself
It’s natural to watch other competitors at tryouts, but this can risk hurting a player’s confidence. If a young volleyball player is focusing on how well other athletes are performing, they might lose assurance in their own abilities.
Instead, athletes need to stay in their bubble and only focus on what they can control – their own performance. Players should try to only think about the drills and techniques they need to execute and how to do them to the best of their ability.
Helping youth realize they can’t control how everyone else does, only their own performance, can help ease some of the stress they might be feeling.
Acknowledge the fear
Some volleyball players can benefit from simply talking through pre-tryouts stress with a parent, coach or other confidants.
Players can feel at-ease by discussing any fears they might have heading into the evaluation session and getting honest feedback from a trusted resource that they can use throughout tryouts. Maybe they are worried about their serve and they just need someone to listen to them explain why they are stressed about the serving drills. That alone can help alleviate some anxiety.
Physically prepare to help calm the mind
Practicing regularly before tryouts can help calm the minds of youth athletes.
Coming into tryouts prepared can help the player feel more confident during evaluations. If they know they’ve practiced and prepped to the best of their ability, then they can enter tryouts feeling assured and fearless.
Author Bio: Chris Knutson is co-founder of TeamGenius, a leading player evaluation software that helps youth sports organizations by streamlining tryouts and player evaluations.