What to say – and not say – on the way to your child’s game

2/2/2010

As a youth sports parent, you know all too well that big chunks of time are spent in the car shuttling kids to their games. What you may not be quite as aware of is that the conversations you have with your youngster on the way pack quite a punch and have the power to enhance their season or drain the fun out of participating.

So, keep your eyes on the road and use the following handy checklist to help make sure that what you say from behind the steering wheel bolsters their self-esteem and confidence and has them excited to take the field.
 
Do:
 
Use a calm, supportive tone of voice. “The way you say something is as important as the words that you choose to say,” says Dr. Joel Fish, a Philadelphia-based sport psychologist and author of 101 Ways to Be a Terrific Sports Parent.
 
Ask them if they’re looking forward to playing in the game. Comments such as how you noticed how they’ve performed a particular skill in practice really well lately, such as blocking out defenders on rebounds if their sport is basketball, will provide that extra boost of positive reinforcement that will help them look forward to competing and displaying their skills.
 
Ask if they know any of the kids on the team they are playing that day. Pushing the conversation in this direction will subtly shift the focus away from wins and losses and help your child arrive at the game stress-free and anxious to get started.
 
Maintain your sense of humor and do your best to keep the mood light. If you’re able to laugh at yourself and make light of things you’ve done, your children will be more relaxed, open and more likely to laugh along with you. Share some of your more humorous childhood sports memories. This will help your child relax, open up and realize that tripping over the base or having the ball bounce off them really isn’t that big of a deal.
 
Observe your child and follow their lead. “Take your cues from your child,” Fish says. “Will your child relax by talking about the game so that he or she will feel more confident and mentally prepared? Or does your child prefer not to talk about the game so that they can calm down and relax before the competition? Sometimes, children can’t answer a parent’s question of, ‘What can I do to be most helpful to you on the way to a game?’ As parents, over time, we can help our children learn how to answer this question.”
 
Don’t:
 
Put extra pressure on them the day of the game. Even seemingly innocent comments uttered in the car on the ride over to the game, such as “Let’s get a hit today,” can cause a child to suddenly be burdened with thoughts that if they don’t deliver a hit that their mom or dad is going to think less of them. Also, what can often happen is the child may turn in her best performance of the season, but because she didn’t collect a hit, she will leave the playing area saddled with disappointment and feelings of failure. “The problem with saying, ‘Let’s get a couple of hits today,’ is that you’re setting up a performance goal that the child doesn’t have complete control over,” Fish says. “As parents, we want to help our children learn how to set goals that they have control over attaining. Comments such as, ‘Try to have fun today,’ ‘Try to give it your best effort,’ ‘Try to take some good swings’ and ‘Try to be more selective about the pitches that you swing at,’ are examples of goals that an athlete has more control over.”
 
Talk about winning and losing games. Your child has no control over the outcome of the game, either. You should steer clear of any questions revolving around what the opposing team’s record is or how many games they’ve won in a row.
 
Ride home in silence following a tough loss. With the excitement that accompanies youth sporting events, it’s easy to think of your child as an athlete first and a son or daughter second. Interestingly, parents are often more concerned with winning and losing than their children. So, don’t make losing any harder than it has to be. Treat your child to that post-game ice cream regardless if they went 4-for-4 and hit the game-winning home run, or if they went 0-for-4 and struck out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning.
 
Compare their performances to their teammates. A big part of youth sports is playing as a team, instilling camaraderie and teaching kids to support one another. None of that can happen if your child gets the impression that you don’t think he played as well as one of his teammates or isn’t developing as quickly.

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