What to Say to Your Kids After a Rough Game

Striking out three times in a game. Allowing the winning goal to score. Losing by a lot. All tough times, for sure.

But one of the most difficult times of all for children in youth sports just might be while they are on your watch: the ride home after a rough game.

We protect children during games with equipment such as batting helmets, shin guards, pads, etc. But there’s no protection for the ego. When they are tired, frustrated and often at their most vulnerable state, we often insist on rehashing what just happened.

It’s a big problem in youth sports.

Raising three boys with more than 12 years of youth sports between them, I’ve had my share of tough postgame car rides home with my children. And looking back, I realize that I talked too much and created a less-than-desirable atmosphere.

I had a lot of enthusiasm for what they were doing and inserted my two cents more frequently than I should have. I wasn’t intentionally trying to interfere; I genuinely thought I was helping.

Now, I know I didn’t make the right choice.

“I Love Watching You Play”

I remember years ago seeing a study about youth sports and car rides home and the suggestion to simply say to your child: “I love watching you play.” Nothing more. Nothing less.

I didn’t get it at first. Shouldn’t you say more? Well, after much thought, it began to make sense.

Kids want to know you love them the same way for better or worse. If you react differently to their games based on winning and losing, or whether they had a good game or not, they will associate their relationship with you based on how they or their team played.

They don’t want to instantly revisit things on the way home. Especially after a tough loss. Just think about the conversations you may have had with your children after games:

  • You didn’t hustle enough.
  • The referees were horrible.
  • You guys should have won.

Then I thought about it. On my own commute home from work, I could decompress after a tough day at the office. I would look at the snow-covered mountains, the water, listen to music, etc. It was my time to relax and unwind after a difficult day.

I then think about a child’s commute home after a game. Parents making suggestions, critiquing their effort and play, coaches’ decisions and much more.

What if I had been forced to sit in my seat and have someone do the same to me: question my effort, my abilities, my decisions, my co-workers? I probably would have dreaded going to and from work each day.

Sometimes it’s best just to let your child be.

Reinforce your love of watching them play, but let them dictate the conversation from there. If your child has a particularly bad game, always remember to not  “force” the conversation on the ride home. Let your child take the lead. If they want to talk about things, fine. Otherwise, leave the ball in their court (unless it’s something that needs immediate attention, like a sportsmanship issue).

Think of it like turning off a faucet.

During a game, children pour their effort, emotions and focus into the game.

When it’s over, let them turn off the faucet and move onto something else. It will be a happier ride home for everyone.

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