How to Have a Successful Tryout Experience

As athletes and performers

As an athlete or performer, some of the most exciting and terrifying experiences you can have are tryouts. There is the thrill of having the chance to join a new team or become part of a new organization. On the other hand, there is the accompanying fear that comes as you realize how vulnerable you are making yourself. At these events, you open yourself up to the possibility of rejection and embarrassment.

But, for a lot of people, these are the best opportunities to be seen. Going to tryouts provides you with the chance to move onto a higher level of play. While they are necessary, that doesn’t mean they’re easy to deal with. That is why I want to walk you through my current experience with a tryout and show you what I did mentally to prepare.

My Tryout History

Going through high school I despised tryouts. Not only did I despise them, but they completely terrified me. Every time I would go, I felt so insecure and out of place. For some reason, my mind went straight to thinking everyone else was better skilled than I was, and I had no reason to be there.

Have you experienced similar feelings? The anxiety consumed me to the point I felt no excitement at all when at these events. In high school, these were known as showcases. A team would host a weekend event where a whole bunch of players would come showcase their skills in front of scouts.

What’s interesting about my experience is that the smaller the tryout, the less anxious I felt. I can remember going to a showcase at Concord University in which there were only a handful of guys. Plus, a few of my summer ball teammates were there which eased the nerves.

But now that I think about it, that tryout was much more informal. In fact, it was more set up like a practice. The coaches walked us through drills, teaching us, all while observing our skills. So, I would say the more performance like a tryout felt, the more anxiety began to build within me.

All of these tryouts happened when I was in high school. A lot has changed since then, especially in regard to my mental toughness. Back then, I was unaware of how to use my mind to put me in a better position to succeed.

However, I’ve now gone through my own experience working with a sport psychology consultant and have become one myself. Which was one of the main drivers that motivated me to attend a professional tryout.

That is where I currently find myself. Awaiting the start of the first day of a three-day showcase for an independent professional league. What I would like to do is walk you through my experience. That way, I can show you what worked and what didn’t work in terms of preparing myself for the event.

My hope is that you can use some of the tools and approaches I will discuss when you find yourself facing a tryout. I am going to structure this article based on the day. So, it will be a little like a journal of the weekend. I’ll discuss how I’m feeling, what techniques I use, and how well they worked.

Day One

Today is day one of the tryout.

I am currently sitting in my hotel room, preparing for the day. Today will be purely a showcase. So, I imagine there will be a lot of standing around. That’s what I remember from my high school days at least.

To prepare for this weekend, I created myself a self-talk routine geared towards calming my nerves and improving confidence. Here are the affirmations I included in the routine:

  • I am confident in my natural talents.
  • I am a great baseball player.
  • I believe in myself and my abilities.
  • I am calm, relaxed, and confident.

I decided on these statements because I felt they encompassed the type of mindset I wish to have going into the tryout. My aim is to be relaxed, confident, and play freely. In order to do so, I must trust in myself, and my talents.

For yourself, decide on what type of mindset you are seeking and tailor your self-talk routine to it.

On top of a self-talk routine, I have been utilizing visualization to increase confidence and promote relaxation. The past few nights, I’ve gone over the showcase in my mind. Picturing myself running, taking ground balls, and hitting.

This type of mental rehearsal is a great way to generate the feeling that I’ve already succeeded at the tryout before even getting there.

I plan on doing a breathwork session, followed by one more visualization session right before I leave my hotel. At that time, I will go over my goals once more. For this weekend, I created three physical goals and three mindset goals I aim to achieve.

Physical Goals:

  • Watch the ball all the way into my glove.
  • Stay centered at the plate.
  • Keep an opposite field approach during batting practice.

Mindset Goals:

  • Focus on my breathing throughout the whole tryout.
  • Remain positive by repeating affirmations.
  • Use gratitude whenever I feel anxiety begin to creep up.

My goals may change going into tomorrow and Sunday, depending on how today goes. But by developing these goals, I am providing myself something to focus on. As you can see, none of these are outcome-oriented. All of the goals are process-focused, which means I am in complete control of them.

I feel pretty nervous about today, but I am also very excited. It’s been a while since attending one of these showcases, and I’m interested to see how my strategy pans out. The important thing for me to remember is to let go.

Once I arrive at the field, I want to let go of all expectations about how the day and weekend will go. That is why one of my mindset goals is to focus on my breath. By doing that, I will be mindful of the present moment, eliminating many distracting thoughts.

It’s now time to get ready. I look forward to seeing how it goes today and hopefully providing you with some useful tips when dealing with a tryout of your own.

Day Two

It’s now the morning of day two for the tryout. What I would like to do is recap how yesterday went and describe some observations I made concerning the tools I utilized.

The day was set up in a typical showcase fashion, for anyone who is familiar with baseball showcases. If you’re not, it goes like this. You show up, stretch, run a sixty-yard dash, take either ground balls or balls in the outfield, depending on your position, and then you take some batting practice.

Leading into the workout, I was pretty nervous, as I stated in the previous section. The nerves always grow worse as I walk into the ballpark and witness the sea of guys waiting to be registered. I would imagine it’s a similar feeling to anyone waiting for a tryout to start.

The time when you scan the crowd to see who looks more talented than you. You just have to be very careful at this moment to not psych yourself out and let imposter syndrome take over.

After being checked in, they gave me a number. This is how we are to be identified during the tryout. As I was talking to my mom last night, we began discussing how that’s really all we are to the scouts, a number. It seems harsh, but it’s just the reality.

Truthfully, how could they treat us personally when there are close to a hundred guys there. It can seem cold and easy to take this emotional distancing personally. You just have to remember they are merely looking at your talents and how well you’d fit within their organization. If you are rejected, it has nothing to do with who you are as a person.

So back to the tryout. I had a funny thing happen to me while we were running the sixty…I forgot my number. How horrifying! I actually ran in the wrong place. I only know this because I checked with the guys timing me once I finished running and they told me my correct number.

In the past, this would have catapulted me into a tailspin, becoming incredibly embarrassed and feeling as if I must hide. However, I think due to my increased self-confidence and the fact I did my best to stay in the moment, the feeling of embarrassment came and went.

I did not dwell on the mix-up. I simply let it go and re-centered myself in the moment. The rest of the tryout went well. I made a couple not so great throws during my ground ball session, but I bounced right back.

After the throws, I did my best to let them go, and once again focus on my breath. This brought me back into a mindful state, where I fielded the next three quite well.

As I suspected, there was a lot of waiting around yesterday, which can cause you to sink deep into your thoughts. Depending on your personality, this could be good or bad. For me, it’s always bad due to my capability of drastically overthinking.

To remedy that, every time thoughts began to come into my mind, I attacked them with gratitude and my affirmations. By reminding myself how happy and thankful I was to have this opportunity I felt much more relaxed.

Last night, I went back over my goals from the day and reassessed them to see if they held true for today. Instead of just a workout, today is going to be a game. So, I thought maybe I needed to adjust the goals to be more targeted towards that.

However, I believe they still hold true for today. My goals will stay the same, as well as the self-talk and visualization routine.

After day one and going into day two, here are my key takeaways for you:

  • Trust in yourself: whatever tryout you’re going to, there is always competition. You must trust in yourself and your abilities.
  • Focus on what’s in your control: Don’t worry about how others do, or any other factor. Focus solely on yourself and give your all to the tasks required of you.
  • Don’t take the coaches’ distance personally: remember, they are there to evaluate, not to be your friends. Know your own worth and understand, their lack of talking to you does not mean they don’t like you or respect you.
  • It’s okay to be nervous: as someone who always tried to fight nerves, this is tough for me to grasp. But it’s okay to be nervous. Embrace these nerves, allow them to be there, and then give the day your all.

I’m excited for today, and I look forward to conveying to you the experiences and lessons I learn from day two of the tryout.

Day Two Recap

The second day of tryouts was a little bit of a different format than day one. We warmed up, took some batting practice, and then went right into live at-bats. What these involve, if you are unfamiliar with the term, are pitchers throwing to hitters as if it were a real game.

Doing this is the best way for the scouts to get an idea of the skills of the pitchers, as well as the skills of hitters when facing live pitching.

Going into the second day, as I said earlier, I went back over my goals, read the affirmations, and did some breath work followed by visualizations right before I left my hotel. Since I had already been there for a day, I felt a little more comfortable.

The first day is always the most nerve-wracking because you are unfamiliar with what is going to happen. But I must say, once the live at-bats started, the nerves picked up. Admittedly, I was not prepared to face live pitching. I haven’t had anyone to throw to me, so the last pitcher I faced was around eight months ago.

I am sure many others were in a similar position. That was all we did for the rest of the tryout on day two. The toughest part was the fact we all only got one at-bat. This allowed no time to get warmed up and settled into the pitching.

When you know you only have one chance, the pressure can really mount. After experiencing that, I thought about other tryout scenarios that may be one chance events. Where you feel you have to perform perfectly in order to be judged favorably. So, what I want to do is provide you with some tips on how to handle these types of situations.

You Don’t Have to be Perfect

It’s easy to think you must execute whatever it is you’re doing perfectly. That can be a recipe for disaster mentally. Putting this much pressure on yourself amplifies the nerves you are undoubtedly already experiencing.

Also, the truth is scouts know when they see a good player. Whether you get a hit in this instance or not, really doesn’t make as much of a difference as you think. They understand the game, just as scouts of other sports do.

They’ve become scouts for a reason. So trust in yourself, and let go of trying to be perfect.

You Have to be Focused

While you shouldn’t aim for perfection, you do want to do your best. This requires incredible focus. In a tryout environment, distractions are everywhere. You have guys talking to each other, the scouts talking, plus all of the anxiety you may be feeling.

This is where you need to do your best to center your attention on the present moment. Focus on the goals you laid out for yourself, and trust in the work you’ve put in. This is the time to give all your attention to the act, especially if you know you only get one chance that day.

Don’t Hide

Funny enough, I did the exact opposite of this when I was younger. At high school showcases, I did my best to hide from sight. I felt the more I hid, the less of a failure I could be. But that raises the question, why are you there?

If you truly want to be scouted or picked up by a team, you cannot hide. This signifies to the scouts you are scared, or that you don’t have the passion to play. And above talent, these men and women want to see that you want it.

Yesterday there were some guys who the scouts had to call at the end of the live at-bats because they didn’t come up and hit. You could tell the disapproval which came over the scouts faces when they saw the guys run in from their hiding places in the dugout. I know how hard it can be to put yourself out there, especially when you are nervous.

But the fact is, it’s better to mess up while standing out than not fail while hiding in the corner.

Day Three

As I go into the last day of tryouts, I must say it’s been a fun experience. I have enjoyed being on the baseball field and getting to showcase myself to scouts. Today will be another day of live at-bats. But first, the scouts will do final evaluations upon request.

This is going to be a little intimidating since if they don’t request more workouts from you it can be taken as no interest. But no matter what, I have to stay focused and just do my best when I get the opportunity to play.

Once again, I look forward to providing you with some valuable tips after this last day of tryouts. Also, after it’s all finished, I will recap the whole event, giving you my key takeaways and what you can do to better prepare yourself for a similar situation.

Recap of Day Three

The last day of tryouts was a little different than the previous two. We started off by doing a bunch of defensive work so the scouts could perform final evaluations on the players. Next, we took some batting practice followed by live at-bats again.

As the final day of tryouts went on, a calmness came over me. I think it was due to the fact I knew I had given it my all. When I got the opportunity to perform, I did the best I could. Knowing that allows you to feel pride in yourself.

I would say I perceived mixed emotions from the other players. Some were calm, knowing that the scouts probably already had made their decisions by the third day. While others seemed more aggressive, trying to get as many more opportunities as they could to be seen.

When the live at-bats were over, the tryout had ended. It was wrapped up by the director of the league gathering us all together and giving a final speech regarding the three days. At the end, he read off a list of players who the league was offering spots to.

At that moment, you could just see all the guys hoping to hear their names called. The director read off the numbers they had given each of us. As your number grew closer you knew this was it. Either you heard it called, or you were passed on this opportunity.

As he got close to my number, I began to feel the anticipation rise. Would I be called? Had I impressed the scouts enough to be given a chance to further prove myself?

When he read out 609, which was my number, I felt a great sense of pride come over me. I was grateful for the courage to attend the tryout and proud of myself for performing the best that I could. Now I have the chance to go on and play another season of baseball if I choose.

The Biggest Takeaways from the Tryout

Going to this tryout was a fantastic experience. I truly believe we should always seek out things that make us uncomfortable. With my past experience being mostly negative in terms of tryouts, the thought of attending a professional one made my stomach turn.

However, I was lucky enough to have made a positive impression on the scouts there. Also, the experience provided me with some valuable lessons and tips I want to share with you. That way, you can put yourself in a better position to succeed when you’re in a similar situation.

#1 Embrace the Nerves

I talk a lot about accepting your nerves, and for good reason. When I was younger, the majority of my attention was given to getting rid of my nervousness. I thought I had to be completely absent of nerves in order to perform well.

That’s simply not true. Pre-performance nerves are quite common, especially in a high-pressure situation like a tryout. In these types of environments, you need to be conscious of where you place your focus.

By giving too much attention to your nervousness, two things occur. One, you actually intensify the nerves because you are focusing on them. And two, you are less focused on the task at hand because of your attention being occupied elsewhere.

I know that being nervous is not a comfortable feeling. But, if you want to perform your best, you must move past it. That doesn’t mean getting rid of them either. You need to embrace your nerves, accepting their presence, and then turn your attention to what you want to accomplish.

#2 Focus on You

The second tip I have for you involves focusing on yourself, rather than the other players and coaches that are there. Let’s first talk about the other players. A common tendency during tryouts is to focus on the other players or performers.

It’s natural to want to compare yourself, especially since you feel you are competing against them. But here’s the truth, how well they perform has nothing to do with how well you perform. In fact, the more you focus on them, the less likely you are to reach peak performance.

During such events, you have to focus on yourself and give it your all when you have a chance to perform. Don’t worry about how good or bad everyone else is. Trust in yourself and focus on being the best version of you.

Now for the coaches and scouts, you equally don’t want to worry about them. They are observing your performance. You will only cause yourself anxiety if you are concerned about whether they are watching you or what their reactions are.

Again, focus on yourself. When your name is called to perform, do it as well as you can. Beyond that, don’t worry about what the scouts think. Your job is to focus on yourself. Allow them to do their job of judging you. But their judgment is in no way under your control.

Keep your focus on yourself and your performance will be all the better for it.

#3 Don’t Hide

I talked about this a little bit earlier, but you don’t want to hide during tryouts. To some, this may sound silly, but to others, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Hiding can feel safe because you run into fewer chances of making a fool of yourself.

But you also give yourself much less of a chance to succeed. If your goal truly is to get picked up by a team or make an organization, you have to put yourself out there. During these types of events, they aren’t going to go out looking for you.

It’s your responsibility to show them what you can do. That cannot be accomplished while hiding in the shadows. I know it seems scary, but it’s a lot less painful than the regret you’ll feel knowing you didn’t give the tryout your all.

#4 Enjoy It

Maybe the most important tip I can give you is to enjoy every second of the tryout. While you may be nervous, scared, intimidated, and desperately wanting to make a team you must always remember to enjoy the moment you are in.

Tryouts can be cutthroat events that make you feel like just another name on a piece of paper. If you don’t enjoy playing the sport, why put yourself through such an agonizing process?

Also, another incredible benefit of enjoying yourself is the amount of pressure it removes. Once I began to simply enjoy being out on that baseball field, it’s almost as if it didn’t matter if I got on a team.

I was satisfied and happy with just being able to spend a weekend playing a sport I love. When talking to a lot of the guys at the tryout, they all kept confirming this idea. They would say things like, “If you’re not having fun, this game will crush you.”

That is so true. And not just with baseball but every sport or activity you do. If you rely solely on an outcome to create joy, you will be left defeated the majority of the time. But once you learn to just enjoy yourself, anything else will be merely icing on the cake.

Final Thoughts

My goal with this article was to bring you along for the ride while I attended a professional tryout. My aim was to provide you with some insight into how these events are run as well as give you actionable tips you can use in your own life.

I am very grateful for the experience and I hope you are able to take away some useful information. As athletes and performers, a necessary evil is putting ourselves out there, opening ourselves up to all sorts of vulnerability for the hope of furthering our careers.

If I had to pick just one major idea I hope you take away from this article it’s this: always have fun with what you’re doing. If you love what you do, everything else will take care of itself.

How do you cope with tryouts? What strategies do you use to perform your best in these pressure-filled situations? I would love to hear your take, so please leave a comment below.

I hope you enjoyed this article and if you did, please share it so others can benefit from the information and use it to help themselves during their own tryouts.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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Eli Straw

Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.

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