Helping Our Kids Handle Try Out Stress

Dan Abrahams, Sport Psychologist from the UK and Author of Soccer Tough and Soccer Brain joins Skye to discuss how we can best support our children through Tryout Stress.

Listen to the 7 minute interview to hear some helpful strategies and tips for parents.

How can we help our children prepare for youth sports team tryouts if they are feeling unusually nervous?

What should we say to our children when we are driving to tryouts and getting ready to drop them off?

What can we say to our children after the tryout if they are feeling upset or disappointed in their performance?


Dan Abrahams

Dan Abrahams is a global sport psychologist who works alongside some of the leading players, teams, coaches and organizations in the world. He is known for his passion and ability to de-mystify sport psychology, as well as his talent for creating easy to understand and simple to use techniques and performance philosophies.

A former professional golfer and PGA golf coach Dan has a First Class Honors degree in psychology and Masters degree in sport psychology. Academically he is visiting lecturer at several universities and he holds registration with the HCPC (meaning he is legally allowed to practice as a psychologist).

Dan works in all sport but specializes in football/soccer and golf. He is Lead Psychologist for England Golf and he works with players from leading amateur through to Tour players. In football/soccer psychology he is regarded as a leader in the field. He has some of the leading turnaround case studies in Premier League history and he has written two international bestselling books. One of these books, Soccer Tough, has been heralded one of the most important books in football. He currently works with players, teams and organizations across 'Planet Football.'

Dan also works in the Corporate Sector delivering his sport psychology techniques and philosophies to individuals and groups.


Welcome to Soccer Parenting. Youth sports tryouts can often be a very stressful time for our children. How can a parent know what to say to your child in order to help them through this stressful process? Joining us today is Dan Abrams, sports psychologist from the UK, the author of many books, including Soccer Brain and Soccer Tough and Soccer Parenting expert contributor. Welcome, Dan.

Dan Abrams:
Hi, Skye. Thanks for having me on.

Of course. So let's assume tryouts are in a couple of weeks and our child is very nervous. What are some things that we can do now to help them through this process?

Dan Abrams:
Yeah, those last few weeks can be nerve wracking. And it's kind of appreciating that this possibly means the world to your young soccer player. I remember as a kid competing in sport and being absolutely devastated if I didn't succeed in a tryout or I'd had a poor game in an important tournament. So I think first and foremost, it's appreciating that there will be nerves, there will be anxiety. I think at this stage, a really good practical thing, rather than giving advice or insisting on great performance and focus and mental toughness and all those kinds of things, I think a really useful thing to do, and I talk a lot about this in my books, is start asking really, really powerful questions. A question could revolve around best games or dream games. "Tell me a little bit about your best game. What would it look like if you have your dream performance in this tryout, in this trial?"
And just start to elicit some really cool action-based words from your young soccer player. So things like, "Oh, well, I'll be moving all the time and I'll be really alert and alive and lively and sharp, and I'll dominate the opposition." And just some really cool little words that you can reflect back to your young soccer player, because words create pictures and pictures really mediate the feelings that we experience.
And if you can get two or three words ... I call this my keyword drill. If you can get 2, 3, 4 words related to their best game, their dream game, and just write those down, put those words up on the fridge, put those words by their bed. Put those words on the bedroom table, the kitchen table or whatever, so that your young soccer player sees them all the time. And every time they see those words click, it just pops into their head those really good pictures. So that's a wonderful little exercise that you can use just to start to rationalize in their mind what they want to do, how they want to play. It's not magic dust. It's not magic dust at all, but it's just something practical that you can do.

Great. Anything else in addition that you would do if we're in the car heading to tryouts just before the performance?

Dan Abrams:
Well, something similar. Again, I'm big, and I know we've talked about this before, Skye. I'm big on questions. I go via the adage, I insist, you resist. So if you become as a soccer parent, a soccer coach yourself, no matter what your knowledge in the game is, well that's actually not being a soccer parent. And I think you have to help your young soccer player be the expert in this instance. So again, just repeating back those words, asking them to talk a little bit about how they want to perform, how they want to play, what that looks like, is useful. But of course, also as a soccer parent, reminding them that you love them and that it doesn't matter to you how they do, how they play. You just want them to go out, have fun, relax, enjoy themselves, and do the very best that they can do because that's all they can do.

Excellent. So after the tryouts, they get back in the car and you can tell they're really upset. They just feel like they haven't performed as well as they wanted to. What are your suggestions there?

Dan Abrams:
Say nothing. Say nothing. If your child is devastated. When I say say nothing, if you can really see they're disappointed and you ask a couple of questions. "How did it go? What went well? What could have gone better?" And you're getting back monosyllabic answers, let them be. It's okay. That's cool. That's not the time for you to be John Wooden. That's not the time for you to be Jose Mourinho. It's not the time for you to make comments about what they should have done and ifs and buts. That's the time to give them some space. Let them be a young person. As adults, if we have a bad day at work, we don't want to suddenly reach for solutions straight away. So if they want to talk, fantastic. In that instance, ask them what did go well. That can really be a boost of confidence.
Ask them what they felt could have gone better. But you know what? Also empathize with them. "I'm really sorry you felt you had a bad performance today. That must be really frustrating for you. I know how well you wanted to do, and I know how frustrated you'll feel not doing that. If you feel like talking about it in the next few hours or the next day or so, let's have a little chat about it. Let's see maybe what you think you may do better next time."
So I think empathy is so important in that situation because it calls the emotional part of the brain. And as we all know, for young soccer players, that emotional part of the brain which to just young people in general, that emotional part of the brain, the limbic system, as we call it in science, is firing, is firing when we perform poorly. Just labeling that situation. "I know you feel frustrated right now." Using that term, frustrated, helps you empathize with them, get on their level, and then when they decide to talk, it gives them the opportunity to open up. But when they do decide to talk, then just let them talk. Don't make suggestions. Don't tell them what you think. Let them talk, ask good questions. Get from them what they feel they need to do better next time.

Great. Thanks so much, as always, for your expert advice and your insight. If you're interested in hearing more and learning more from Dan, check out the interview section and the expert section at Thanks.