by Travis Thomas

Another school year is upon us. Millions of young athletes across the country will be heading out to fields, hitting the gym, and pounding the courts hoping to earn their spot on a high school roster. For younger athletes, a new travel season begins with the hopes of earning more playing time and improving their game.

I still remember the two-a-day practices and the smell of freshly cut grass and late summer humidity. Dozens of players working their hardest, trying to focus on their own performance, yet having a hard time not sizing themselves up to everyone else.

When it came to being mentally tough and focusing on the right things, I was a mess. Sure, I made it through my share of try-outs, but I wish I could go back in time and talk to my teenage self about what the coaches are really thinking about. 

As a performance specialist now, and a former leadership coach at IMG Academy, I have helped thousands of athletes mentally prepare and understand the perspective of the coach.

So players (and parents), take notice, here are my…

Top 5 Tips for Crushing Your Try-Out

1.  Step Up. Stand Out! I worked with thousands of campers who would come through IMG Academy each year. One of the first things I would do in my sessions is ask for a volunteer. Most kids would hold back because they didn’t know what I wanted them to do. But there was always at least one brave soul who would step up – and stand out! Your coach is looking for the same thing! Talent aside, your coach is looking for players who have the mental skill set to be leaders. You want to be memorable! And when you show courage in volunteering you make yourself memorable to your coaches. It sends a very specific message that you are a player not afraid to get outside of your comfort zone. Without trying to be too harsh, I would remind the campers at IMG that I see thousands of kids each year, but only remember a few. Which kids do I remember? The one’s who stepped up and stood out as a result of volunteering.

Player Tip: If your coach asks for a volunteer, be first!

2.  Effort > Ability It doesn’t take a coach long to identity top ability. There will be players at every try-out with superior ability, but don’t mistake ability for talent. Talent is when effort and ability come together. If you have ability, but struggle with working hard, prepare to be disappointed. Ability is overrated. Coaches will take a player with less ability in favor of a player who proves they will continue to outwork their opponent with effort. I learned this the hard way for most of my career. A coach wants a player they can coach, not a player who needs to be poked and prodded.

Player Tip: Make it your mission to WOW the coaches with your effort.

3.  Be a Victor, NOT a Victim! If you want to make life hard for yourself, make sure you are a player who blames, complains, and makes excuses. I call those the BIG 3 of the Victim Mindset. Conversely, coaches are looking for players who take ownership and responsibility for their performance. When things go wrong, instead of finding an excuse, they FIND A WAY! If you want to send a message to your coach, be a Victor and not a Victim! A great attitude and perseverance will send you to the top of most coach lists!

Player Tip: Replace blaming, complaining, and making excuses with positivity, accountability, and finding a way!

4.  Make Your Teammates Look Brilliant! The biggest misconception amongst young athletes is thinking they need to impress coaches with their individual ability. Like I mentioned earlier, coaches pick up ability very quickly. What they are looking for beyond that are players who are coachable, carry great attitudes, and make their teammates better. As an improviser on stage my job is to make my fellow performers look good. As an athlete your job is the same. Coaches love players who think beyond their own stats in favor of setting their teammates up for success. You might NOT be the fastest, strongest, or have the most physical ability, but can you make everyone around you better?

Player Tip: Be vocal, be selfless, and be the player others want to play with!

5.  PARENTS: Be Quiet! This last tip is specifically for you parents, because believe it or not, you have a lot to do with the try-out process as well. Urban Meyer admitted to stop recruiting players if their parents were high drama and over involved. I know plenty of coaches at all levels that will happily part with a talented player if the parents are a headache to work with. Not only can loud and overbearing parents be a mess to deal with on the sidelines, coaches also know those players will be more difficult to teach if they are getting contradictory advice from mom and dad. 

Player and Parent Tip: Mom and Dad, let your child have their experience, and let the coaches coach. You had your time, now let your child have theirs.

There you have it. 5 tips that will help you show up and leave a positive impression on your coach. Does this guarantee that you’ll make the team? Of course not, but if you consistently behave and perform with this mindset you undoubtedly increase your chances for success.

Embrace the opportunity. Turn your nerves into excitement. And remember to say “Yes, And” to whatever comes your way!

Good luck!

Travis Thomas is the Creator of Live Yes, And, a company dedicated to helping individuals, teams, and companies unleash their inner brilliance. A professional improvisational comedian for over 17 years, Travis shares his message of purpose, authenticity, and collaboration to audiences, companies, and teams across the country. He is currently the Performance Specialist for Massive Soccer in Florida, and a former Leadership Coach at IMG Academy. His new book 3 Words for Getting Unstuck: Live Yes, And is available on Amazon Kindle.

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One comment on “Tryout Season: 5 Tips for Making the Cut!

  • Super blog Travis! Your energy and clarity and timely messages rouse me to better myself. I particularly enjoy your podcasts I listen to them faithfully. Be well! Be you!
    With love and gratitude, Celeste

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