With the end of August comes the start of school around the country, which means that girls volleyball teams everywhere are completing, or have completed, their tryouts.
For some, these tryouts will be the fruitful conclusion of months or years of dedication and hard work to the sport, resulting in a spot on the varsity, a spot on the junior varsity, or in some of the suburban mega-schools, maybe even a coveted spot on a freshman or sophomore or 8th-grade team. For those who made it, you now represent your school, your peers, and your classmates with your effort, your decorum on-and-off the court, and your sportsmanship: a responsibility not to take lightly.
For other players, however, these tryouts end in heartbreak, knowing that they came up short of their goals, and for some, knowing that they’re going to miss out on another year of what, in my opinion, is the best part of youth athletics: high school sports.
And while the former group will get most of the attention, the newspaper clippings, the pre-game introductions, this one is for the latter group. If you’ve missed the team, remember the REAR approach to moving past it: Regroup, Evaluate, Ask, and Remember
The first thing to do after the disappointment of being cut altogether, or not making the level you want, is to Regroup. Take some time to process. Cry it out if you need to, go for ice cream with your non-volleyball friends if you need to. Do some venting, get it out of your system, and then put that behind you. You are entitled to a few days of frustration and negativity, but there needs to be a finite end to that – a point after which you commit to yourself that if those negative thoughts come into your mind, you need to push them out.
If you have trouble pushing out the negative thoughts on your own, practice mindfulness. There are lots of apps that can help you with this, with my favorites being Calm, Headspace, and Buddhify (the latter is especially good for athletes, because it tracks your mindfulness stats, which all athletes love).
If the negativity becomes overwhelming, talk to your parents about seeing a sports psychologist, or consider calling or texting the Crisis Hotline (phone numbers and details here).
The next step is do undergo an honest self-evaluation. Write it down, but you don’t have to show it to anybody – that will keep you from letting your ego float into it. This is a crucial step to help take responsibility for your own life.
Keep the focus on yourself – rather than pushing blame on to parents, coaches, or other factors outside of your control. What did YOU do well in your preparation for the tryout? Did you do a little extra cardio to make sure you could finish the tryout strong? Were you coachable last season, taking advantage of every opportunity to learn? Then find some things that you think you could have done better – did you make every practice? Did you seek out the skills for the position that you want to play? If you want to be a hitter, did you work with a jump training program? If you want to be a libero, did you do enough work on your flexibility? If you want to be a blocker, did you practice your timing rigorously?
Write these things down, and keep them in a private place to look at as you prepare for next year’s tryouts. It will keep you honest.
As a coach, I can tell you that nothing engages me more with an athlete than when they come to me asking what they can do to improve. There’s something about a coach’s mind that they instantly become invested in those athletes. This only works when the athlete comes directly to the coach, rather than having their parents do so.
Asking the coach for things to improve on does a few things. For starters, it forces the coach to review their mental and written notes about an athlete, which will always leave that athlete fresher in their minds when the next year’s tryout rolls around.
It also helps ensure that the areas you are putting the most focus on for improvement are the areas that the coach most values. You’re playing to a specific audience in a tryout – learn what that audience’s favorite things are, and next year, you can give them a better show. If the coach remembers those things, and sees that you improved upon them, it could help cover up for other holes in your game at next year’s tryouts.
This is also a chance to ask about opportunities to work as a team manager in order to build a relationship with the coaches and demonstrate your willingness to be a key player – which is crucial to demonstrate for the 90% of athletes who aren’t going to be a star based on their physical talent alone.
When receiving the coach’s feedback, be gracious. Don’t argue and try to convince them that they missed something or to let you on the team.
Here’s a script for an email that you can send to your coach:
“Dear coach Pat,
Thank you for the opportunity to try out for the team last week, it was a valuable experience for me. While I was disappointed to not make the XYZ team, upon self-evaluation I realized that I could’ve done XYZ better in my preparations for the tryout.
Do you have 15 minutes in the next few days that I could come by your office so that you could give me some more feedback on what specifically I improve on before next year’s tryouts?”
This will go well for you every. single. time. I promise.
And above all else, remember that volleyball is just a game, albeit a game that we all love. It’s important to have goals in life, and sports are a great avenue for goal setting and learning the value of hard work. But, keep your disappointment in perspective. Part of life is working through the challenges and the struggles. There are two ways to handle adversity: you can shut down, you can recede, and you can sulk, and give up, or you can persevere and push forward, you can embrace the grind, and you can see what you’re capable of.
Nobody is happy when they’re sulking, by definition. After the few days in point 1, put it out of your head. Getting better at things is fun. Sports are fun. Learning new skills and jumping higher and reacting faster is fun. It can be hard to drop the ego that comes with failure, with trying but not succeeding, but do it and you’ll open a number of doors for yourself.
- Evaluate – undergo an honest self-evaluation to ask if you think you worked as hard or as long as the other girls on that team
- Ask your coach what you can improve upon (better you than your parents)
- And most importantly, remember that it’s just a game