Monday, April 2, 2012

The Next Level: Advice from an Actor to an Athelete


            I was not a sporty kid. My interests all ran toward artsy stuff—dance lessons, choirs and drama clubs. Naturally I have children who want to play baseball and soccer. So I have become a sports mom. I may grumble about sitting through practices and games in the unpredictable New England weather. And I’ve gotten pretty stressed out trying to get the boys to two different practices at the same time. But the fact is, I love watching my kids do sports.
            There is something adorable about watching a pack of six-year olds tear down a muddy soccer field. Half of them don’t know why they’re running. They’re just keeping up with the pack. At baseball a bored little kid in the outfield is truly entertaining. They’re focused on bugs, dandelions, cloud formations—anything except the game itself. Until now, my kids have played sports at a fairly low level of competition. Everyone gets to play, everyone gets a medal, and everyone cheers for a good effort on either side.
            But things are changing. Owen has played baseball on an “instructional” team for the past two years. James played tee-ball last year and is on deck to move up to instructional baseball this year. I got a call from the coach asking James and Owen to show up for practice Tuesday night. Both kids would be on the same team—at last! They are just far apart enough in age to NEVER play on the same team no matter the sport. I was thrilled.
Owen was not. His first question was, “Am I in instructional again?”  The next level of youth baseball around here is the “minors” and he thinks he’s ready. I didn’t know how it works for a kid to move up to the next level. I figured we’d find out at the practice. Sure enough, after the kids were all tossing the ball around and running some drills, the coach took some phone numbers. Including ours. Later that night he called me and asked Owen to show up for try-outs on Saturday.
I didn’t know what was going to happen on Saturday so I didn’t give him much advice. I don’t know much about baseball beyond the basics and I didn’t want to give him incorrect information. But as I watched the try-outs unfold, I realized that the process is very similar to auditioning for a play or musical. The same advice applies to both procedures.

1.) Early is on time. Your director coach will probably arrive early and you should too. This gives you a chance to ask or answer questions, warm up, and demonstrate that you’re reliable.
2.) Be flexible about your role. You think you’re an awesome shortstop? The coach might see something in you that suggests left field. He has more experience than you do. Give it a chance.
4.) Don’t be afraid to speak up. He’s only tried you out in left field, but you’re dying to show him your stuff at third. When there is a lull, respectfully ask to try out for that. If he says no, suck it up. He may have his reasons. But it never hurts to ask.
5.)  Listen. Really Listen. Yes, the coach wants players who know how to throw, catch, hit, and run. Basic skills are really important, but a player who listens and takes direction well is a player who wants to get better.
6.) Don’t badmouth anyone. Negativity sucks the life out of a group—no one wants it in a cast or a team. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Also, you never know who’s listening. That really awkward kid who fumbles every catch? He could be the coach’s nephew. Stay positive or stay silent. If you have something to grumble about, save it for the car ride home with mom or dad. That’s what they’re there for.
The only baseball team I ever "coached".
7.) Say thank you. When your audition try-out is over, be sure and thank the coaches. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or formal. But it lets them know you appreciate their time and consideration.
I’ll admit everything I know about baseball I learned from directing Damn Yankees. But every thing I learned about making a good impression came from years of auditioning for shows. Who knew an actor would have so much advice for her athlete children?