One of the best parts of sports is that it inspires intense passion in people. This type of zeal can lead to incredible moments and stories, such as those we see and hear about each Olympics. It is the reason sports have an unmatched ability to both draw the best out of individuals and bring people with different backgrounds together.
Youth sports take that excitement and mix it with parental pride. Whether its the extreme joy of seeing your son or daughter experience success or the crushing feeling when mistakes or losses pile up, youth sports can distort the perception of even the most mild-mannered adults.
Then, as parents, there’s a deep-rooted sense of responsibility to help children make sense of those experiences.
Add in the short amount of time adults have to sort out their own thoughts and feelings, and it’s no wonder why many young athletes report the car ride home as their least favorite part of sports.
It doesn’t have to be though.
Here are a few recommendations to make that time less stressful and more enjoyable for everyone.
Wait and See
One of the most frequent and effective suggestions to parents is to avoid being the one who brings up the game.
“Some kids need to talk and get it out, but others just need that quiet reflective time to calm down – follow your child’s lead,” explains Dr. Larry Lauer, a mental skills specialist for the United States Tennis Association.
This is particularly true following difficult losses. Like any major disappointment in life, children are at their most vulnerable during those times and each of them need to learn how to process those situations. The best thing parents can do while waiting is focus on being encouraging and supportive when the opportunity arises.
When your child is interested in talking about the game, try to do more listening than talking. In many cases, the best way for children to learn certain concepts is by figuring them out on their own.
Here are some questions that will guide them down the right path and encourage healthy conversation:
Whether your child played very little, played poorly or had an outstanding game, there are lessons to be learned from both wins and losses. Helping him or her understand those lessons, as well as providing unconditional love and support, should be your main priorities.
Sport psychologist Dr. Rob Bell encourages parents to, “focus on changing the environment from the car ride home to just the home.”
Bell’s comment also serves as a reminder that there times when parents should initiate conversations about the game during the ride home. If your child displays unacceptable behaviors during the game, such as being a bad teammate, showing poor sportsmanship, or disrespecting a coach or official, those are situations that should be addressed from a parent perspective.
If your child’s emotions are still elevated, it’s often best to deal with the issue directly and then put an end to the conversation.