Mastering Social Skills Through the Trials of Tryouts

Whether you’re a parent of an athlete, mathlete, actor, dancer, musician, or child who focuses her energies another way, most parents agree, the successes of your children are prideful moments. And when your child faces disappointment, there’s nothing harder.

Tryouts mean long days and nights; exhausted, cranky kids; hopes, triumphs and frustrations. And if your child is trying out for more than one team (club, part, or troupe), you figure out the fastest, safest routes between fields or studios, and how to possibly accommodate all of the schedules. And the truth is, you may not be able to make that work. Which leads to second-guessing yourself, pushing your child, and overwhelming feelings of what if

But the challenges don’t stop with the tryouts. THEN come the offers. When offered, you’ll likely fall into one of four categories. And there are ways to turn any of these scenarios into a successful experience:

1. Offered just what he wanted! You may be fortunate in that your child tried out for one part (or role) and got exactly what he wanted! Congratulations if this is you! Help your child remember that – while it’s certainly okay to be happy and proud of this accomplishment – it’s important to display humility too, as there may be a number of kids who aren’t in the same situation.

2. Offered too much of what she wanted! If your child is one of the fortunate ones to be offered more than one of the teams or parts of her choice, congratulations! But this isn’t easy! Choosing can be tough. This is a great opportunity to help your child practice decision-making skills. Depending on her age and your family dynamics, you may be an active part of this process. For sports, you’ll most likely look at things like: cost and schedule? Who are the coaches? What’s the team’s record? What’s the family’s history with either club? What do other parents say or think? And for your child, does she have any friends on that team? Talk through these with your child, and let her share her perspective. The decision may mean you need to go back and ask more questions of the coach or director. Is she ready to be part of that? If so, encourage her to demonstrate leadership skills and advocate for herself. If not, show her how it’s done.

This is a great time to remind her about sportsmanship. And if she ends up on a new team or with a new company, practice introducing yourselves and making new friends.

3. Offered something, but not quite what he wanted. If your child is not offered a spot of his choice, but a spot that he tried for as a back-up or is offered a lower-level spot (even if you are certain he should have received a better offer), THEN what do you do? This is a great opportunity to practice skills like dealing with frustration, and – depending on the level of frustration – controlling emotions. Chances are, your child will be disappointed (and you may be too). And it’s okay to be disappointed. It’s also a good time to reflect on the whole experience. What went well, what could have gone better, and what did you learn? But don’t forget there’s some decision-making to be done!

All is not lost. You still have an offer on the table. Decide together: is this something that we want? Walk through the steps of weighing pros and cons, and making a decision that is best for your family. And if you would like to discuss it further with the coach or director, be sure to use the skill of disagreeing appropriately.

4. Not offered. If your child is not offered at all, what do you do then? This is a really tough position in which to find yourself. You are likely to be very disappointed on her behalf. Here’s where a good listening ear comes into play. Model empathy for her. Help her use skills like accepting rejection and dealing with failure. But keep in mind, there are lessons to be learned here as well. Reflect on the experience. Consider, is it too late to tryout somewhere else? Are there classes or recreational leagues or other troupes she might enjoy? If not, help her think about whether there’s another activity she can get involved in that will be just as interesting to her. She may end up finding a talent or interest she never knew existed.

The truth is, whatever the outcome, these are learning experiences for all of us. And they DO affect all of us. Whether your child scores a spot or not, it’s a great time to teach and model key social skills that are certain to help later in life. And to help your child get there, remember the following:

1. Praise him for taking a risk! Trying out for something new or difficult is never easy. It takes a great deal of courage to put yourself in a place of being judged. Chances are, he worked hard to get to where he is, so praise the effort – not just the outcome! Let him know you are proud of him.

2. Avoid excuse-making. Sometimes, your child just might not make it. And you might be certain that she should have. But getting caught up in negative talk or criticism of the director, coach, club, company, or other kids is not going to have any kind of positive outcome. Instead, focus on the positive. How was the experience? What did she learn during this process? What can she work on for next time?

3. Keep things in perspective. When you have 30, 40, 50+ years of life behind you, it’s easier to put things in perspective and realize that whether or not your child made the team is most likely not going to be his defining moment in life. But when you’re 10, 13, 18, it usually doesn’t feel that way. So help him maintain a full list of hobbies and interests that will help keep him balanced. Help him remember that this team is a big part of his activities and passions, but it’s not the ONLY part. Make sure he knows he is loved and that he matters – no matter how things pan out.

From one parent to another, all my best to you and your children in your upcoming tryouts. Just try to remember that she’s watching, and taking her cues from you! If you are able to help your child learn a skill that she can apply to this or another part of her life, you can turn any outcome into a successful experience.

Sep 10th 2019 Erin Green, Director, Boys Town Press

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