Monday, August 27, 2018

Try Me

I participated in my first tryout - for the Madison 56ers Soccer Club's premiere team - as a seventh grader, and while I ended up making the team, the anxiety I felt during the hours leading up both the tryout and the team announcement made me physically ill. I survived each subsequent year's soccer tryouts for both my club and high school teams, but I never tried out or auditioned for anything else because the fear of rejection overwhelmed me. Not trying out for my high school's musicals is still today one of my greatest regrets.
Just because it's funny.

Will had his first tryout two years ago as a nine-year-old, and Hallie - my brave little one - auditioned for the first time as a six-year-old and has since auditioned four times for the Nutcracker ballet, three times for her dance company, and once for a school play. Each time I watch someone pin a number on Will's shorts or Hallie's leotard the nerves and anxiety come rushing back and I feel as awful as I did more than 25 years ago at my first tryout.
Six-year-old Hallie on her way out the
door prior to her first Nutcracker audition. 
10-year-old Will signing his contract on Cavalry Signing Day 2017.

We just wrapped up a three-month-long tryout/audition season, and at this point every year I find myself wondering if asking Will and Hallie (and by "asking", I mean "providing them with the opportunity") to try out and audition is a good thing. I have seen kids have panic attacks on the way into tryouts and burst into tears on the way out of auditions. I have seen parents LOSE THEIR MINDS over the placement of kids on teams and in productions. I have seen kids receive preferential treatment because of something their parents have or haven't done or relationships their parents have with those making the placement decisions. I have seen kids who succeed flaunt their accomplishments in front of those who were cut or didn't make the team/get the part they so desperately wanted, and I have seen kids quit altogether because they didn't feel "good enough". Kids competing against other kids can bring out the most unsavory aspects of youth athletics and activities.

Will's most recent tryouts ended positively for him, but Hallie's last three tryouts/auditions haven't gone exactly how she/I would have liked: one caused Hallie's confidence to waver significantly, one made me - in what has become an annual moment of frustration - to consider pulling Hallie from a particular event altogether, and one broke both of our hearts. Despite these outcomes, however, I truly believe the benefits outweigh the negatives.

Tryouts and auditions encourage kids to work harder in the off-season. They require kids to plan and prepare and follow through. They offer kids an opportunity to show - and be rewarded for - progress and growth. They offer kids AND parents the opportunity to demonstrate dignity and grace in both victory and defeat. And so while tryouts and auditions may be physically, mentally, and emotionally difficult, they challenge kids to become not just better soccer players and dancers, but also harder working, more empathetic human beings.

This article about the benefits of tryouts for youth sports hit home for me, and I believe the concepts it covers apply to other activities as well.

As I watch Will run confidently onto the soccer field and Hallie flounce assuredly into the dance studio, I see one additional benefit beyond those above: because they started early, Will and Hallie aren't afraid to put themselves out there. They won't end up like me, terrified to do so and regretful of a fear-based decision to avoid an activity I probably would have loved.

So send them out there, mamas. Give them a great big hug, remind them to work hard and have fun, and let them give it all they've got. They - and you - will be stronger for it.
As Hallie prepared for this year's Nutcracker audition, I asked her
how she felt. I assured her it was ok to feel nervous, and admitted that
I felt a little anxious for her. Instead of answering, she asked if we could
take one more picture together...and then in the picture she made this
face at the last minute. "No, I'm not nervous, Mom. I've got this."

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