What your young athlete needs from you after a game

By Janis Meredith | Posted 8/17/2015

After a game, your young athlete is full of emotions – either joy or sadness – and your words, be they in the car or at home, will either heal or irritate. For that reason, it’s wise to think about what you say.

Mike Bergstrom, author of The Car Ride Home, speaks from 16 years of coaching at all levels and from seeing his own kids play sports. In his book, he tells the story of how he used to critique his daughter’s performance on the way home from the game.

“I would proceed to share with her, totally unsolicited of course, what she could have done better or what she could have done different. Throw in some criticism of her coach (when it wasn’t me, of course) and her teammates, and by the time we got home, the house was really quiet. If she did share her thoughts with me, I always had an answer.”

Then one day a friend advised him to not discuss the game or practice during the car ride home unless his daughter brought it up. He suggested Mike just tell his daughter how proud he was of her and how much he enjoyed watching her play.

“When I finally took my friend’s advice, the change was very noticeable. After the game I would tell her I loved her, I was proud of her, and that I loved watching her play. That was it. The rest of the time we talked about other stuff, which wasn’t hard once I remembered that sports were only a small part of our total relationship. Usually, after a while, she would start to talk about the game…I just listened….The important thing to keep in mind was that she wasn’t looking for dad to fix the problem; she just needed dad to listen.”

Did you catch that, Mom and Dad? She just needed dad to listen.

Parents get so caught up in post-game teaching, preaching, critiquing, and coaching, that we often forget how important it is to LISTEN to our kids. We do not always have to speak words to communicate unconditional love and support to our kids.

Postgame parenting means putting the filter in place

There’s no need to over-analyze everything you say. That approach is tiring and not always the answer since your child’s emotions often cause them to misread things you say even when your motives are loving and pure.

That being said, it’s still not a bad idea to lovingly filter what comes out of your mouth. When in doubt about your post-game words, it’s better to just listen. You only stir up hurt and anger when you philosophize and critique immediately after a game. At that point, your athlete probably does not want to hear it. If they do, they will ask.

And when they don’t want to talk or they walk alone to the car, don’t take it personally. It’s competitive overload. It will pass. And it’s important that they know you are always there to listen when they want to talk, whether it’s on the car ride home or days later.

Janis B. Meredith, sports mom and coach's wife, writes a sports parenting blog called JBM Thinks. She authored the Sports Parenting Survival Guide Series and has a podcasting series for sports parents. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter