Teen Sports: The Stress and Anxiety Around Tryouts Doesn’t Just Affect the Kids

kids sports tryouts stress


It’s not (just) the thousands of dollars.

It’s not the hours traveling to and from weekly practices.

It’s not the extra training sessions at odd hours.

It’s not the sacrifice of every summer weekend.


It’s the tryouts.


And it’s the unspoken reality that it’s not just your kid who is trying out for the travel team. It’s the justified fear that you are part of the equation as to whether or not your child will be offered a spot on the team.


August is the month of softball tryouts here in Illinois. And it’s a frantic few weeks of tryouts and roster compilations. You would think it all has to do with the girls and their talents, but let’s be real. That’s not the whole picture.


Here’s how I see it. The first spots on a team go to (if applicable) the coaches’ kids. The next spots are filled by the elite athletes. These are the players who are head and shoulders above the crowd, and they are offered spots purely on their talent and skill set. Save a spot or two for the players whose parents are in “the inner circle” with the coach. Let’s say those criteria cover 10 out of the 13 girls on the squad. Three spots remain, and ten girls are left. 


And this is where my stomach starts to hurt a little.


When coaches fill those final spots, the scary truth is that we as parents matter. I mean, no one’s going to come out and admit it – at least when they’re sober. I was once privy to a conversation where a youth hockey coach clinked glasses with the host and declared, “Max will always be on my team. You, hands down, have the biggest house and best bar for parties.” Everyone laughed. I inwardly cringed. He verbalized a fear that gnaws away at the moms of athletes.


For twenty years, I’ve watched the coaches at my school roster their sports teams. Choosing the first players is pretty straightforward – he can shoot a three-pointer, she’s an amazing dribbler. By the time they get to the bottom of the roster, additional information is always a factor – particularly facts about their family. Is their mom on the school board? Is their dad a crazy, unrestrained fan? Is a parent available to help carpool players to away games? Are they just a really nice family in our district? Answers to these questions ABOUT PARENTS help coaches round out their rosters.


So, back to me. My daughter is a solid softball player, but she’s not a standout. She is going to be one of the final four girls added to the roster. So, if you’ve been following along – you know what that means: my husband and I might tip the balance as the coaches consider who makes it and who is cut. During the week of tryouts, this unspoken reality finds its nagging voice, accusing me as I try to fall asleep:


What were you thinking at the Iowa tournament in July when you skipped the after-game party and escaped to your hotel room to READ A BOOK? That antisocial decision doesn’t bode well for your child…




You’re so lazy – you should have tried harder to find some corporate sponsors for the team! Maybe it’s not too late to offer to be the devoted mom who tirelessly fundraises for the team…




You need to send your husband out to bond with the other dads and buy some rounds of beer! I wonder what the secret is to get into the “inner circle” of the team parents …




OH MY WORD! You didn’t even bake cookies shaped like softballs with the girls’ names and numbers iced on each one? What kind of a slacker mom are you?


Last week, a friend of mine sent me this heartbreaking text when her daughter didn’t make a particular travel team: 


“I really liked the coaches but think I may have been too pushy sending an email. I was trying to be nice about how perfect I felt (Megan) would be on their team but my husband said I may have seemed pushy.” 


Megan’s mom loved the coaches at the tryout and wanted to advocate for her daughter to be part of such a positive organization. Now she’s left with the nagging feeling that her email is why her daughter wasn’t chosen. And, if she hadn’t sent the email – and her daughter faced the same disappointing outcome – she would be left second-guessing whether or not she should have reached out.


Like Megan’s mom, we all want our kids to have the best opportunities. We don’t want to be a part of the equation, but here we are. For now, my daughter still loves softball and being able to play year-round has been a joy for her. The team she hopes to make again for 2020 has a coach whom she adores. He is a positive role model, and he’s helped to elevate her play to the next level. According to her dad, she did well at tryouts, and he thinks she’ll make the team without a problem.


We will find out if he’s right on Monday. I just hope we’ve all done our best to make it happen.


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