You build the best teams with the best performers, and the best tryout performances come from the kids having fun and playing hard without self-consciousness. Help the process along by encouraging team spirit and minimizing jitters from Day One of tryout practice. Here are three ways to do it.
1. Warm welcome. A distinctive sports welcome banner or sign should catch participants’ eyes upon arrival and is especially appreciated if the sport or activity is one that does not normally capture a lot of popular attention. Increase the “mileage” with personal greetings as players arrive if at all possible.
For a large school or group where many of those trying out don’t yet know each other, you might consider providing adhesive name tags the first day.
Start right away to notice and verbally reinforce the best demonstrations of positive attitude, hustle, support for others, and the sense of humor that uplifts and never denigrates. You can also chat about behaviors outside of practice, particularly nutrition, sleep and others concerned with players taking care of themselves.
2. Ice breakers. Often, tryout participants arrive with their own teams. There’s nothing wrong about coming in with friends, but if you let them, they’ll tend to stay in their personal comfort zones even though it’s important for everybody to feel comfortable with everybody.
Break up cliques systematically by never allowing participants to form their own groups for warm-ups and other small group activities. Instead, have them count off and keep mixing up the groups frequently.
Counting off is also handy for corporate-style team-building exercises, which we recommend for large and/or disparate tryout groups. These activities are usually a little silly on purpose, because nothing is as cohesive as shared laughter. Consider these team-builders to open a practice, or lengthen break times a little to include them. We particularly like the subgroups to do list-making such as “Five Things We Have in Common” (no body parts or clothing!) or “Five Shared Favorite Things” and then present their lists to the rest.
3. Something unexpected. Pull out a surprise every once in a while for a shared pleasurable experience. These can be things or activities.
When it comes to the first category, rest assured that many ideas – even for personalized spirit products — are quite easy on the budget. For example, you could replace the labels on a case of 20-ounce bottles of water with customized labels for less than $12, personalize static (“window cling”) car decals for as little as 25 cents, or outfit all but the largest tryout groups in temporary spirit tattoos for well under $10.
Another way to go is to have activities in your repertoire that you can pull out during “time for something completely different” moments or reserve for the ends of practices. We particularly like stress-lowering exercises such as deep muscle relaxation, yoga relaxation poses and breathing exercises — all skills that are helpful to spirit and state of mind, with the bonus of being completely portable.
Have a tryout spirit boost you don’t see here? Please share in comments!