A lot of teams have been posting tips, throwbacks, and highlight videos to help motivate and prepare players who attend their tryouts. One thing that these videos and blog posts all have in common is that most of them focus on physical execution. I imagine that these are the easiest and most tangible things to measure: we look for players that can do X. We saw that John executed well in this situation or that Larry completed Z throws and threw Y turnovers. This is probably why most of the written tryout advice out there focuses on how to make changes to physical outcomes rather than how to prepare mentally for tryouts.
I recently participated in the 2015 Beach National Championships. That event was obviously not a tryout. How does Beach Nationals connect with tryouts and mental toughness? After getting my butt kicked by two teams that literally crushed every other team in the Women’s division (I’m looking at you Mussels and Skeeahreet), I had the opportunity to get up close and personal with mental toughness and learned something important as the tryout season begins.
I have never played on a Women’s team that has been able to compete with the Pro Flight type of teams when it comes to bracket play. Part of this is probably a direct reflection of me as an individual. I always thought that my underdog mentality had lessened the amount of pressure I put on myself and made the expectations I had for my team more realistic. In reality, always feeling like an underdog creates a never-ending inferiority complex. Instead of playing relaxed and adaptable, I tighten up and disappear into a sea of self-hate. I box myself into a me-against-the-world mindset and lose focus on playing to my strengths and exploiting my opponent’s weaknesses. I lose a mental edge over my competitors because I am focused inward on negativity.
Through the more laid-back venue of Beach Nationals I gained an opportunity to see why the players on the top two teams are so mentally tough: their complete confidence in their teammates to get open allows them to respond to all pressure with poise, grace, and completions on offense. They have accepted that someone else will be better than them at something, and it keeps them hungry for improvement. It also allows them to be humbled by the players around them and feel confidence that their teammates will elevate their play. These teams genuinely look to the talents and positive attitude of their teammates and work to get the disc back for them. It’s a mutual attitude of confidence.
I sometimes lose the ability to feed off of other people because I put so much pressure on myself to be my own source of inspiration. Part of a drive to win or compete is individual, but a huge component of that is drawn from the people around you. When I box myself in, I lose the power I gain from my teammates; mentally tough opponents draw strength from those around them just as much as they draw strength from within.
As a new prospect, returning player, or team captain, it is sometimes hard to feel that you are allowed to make mistakes, especially at tryouts. It is hard to rely on someone else to be your inspiration or source from which to draw confidence. However, if you box yourself off, you risk going into a negative place as soon as you make a mistake, especially if you’re predisposed to feel pressure about mistakes. Mentally tough opponents use the strength of their teammates to draw mental strength and keep the focus on the team. Ultimate is not an individual endeavor. Tryouts are about finding players who fit into the team-first mentality and bring the full package of mental and physical strength.
Head into tryouts with the same attitude as Dom Fontenette, Gwen Ambler, Opi Payne, Sally Mimms or Anna Nazarov. Head into that tryout knowing that you’re not the best at everything, and strive to find ways to connect with people who help elevate your game. Be inspired by everyone on the field, regardless of their experience and have that drive to bring out the best in everyone around you.