Any football fan can attest to how nerve-racking it is to see your favorite team play in a playoff game. I’d like to say I have a ton of experience at it, but as a New York Jets fan, it’s been very limited over the years, so I’ll take the butterflies when I can get them. But if the playoffs are white-knuckle time for the fans, just think how the players feel as they get ready for a postseason contest.
For a child, it’s much of the same because every game is a must-win or the season is over, and there isn’t anyone who wouldn’t want to walk off the field after the final game of the season with a trophy in their hands. Winning a “Super Bowl” was something that my son Bradley experienced after his first season at the pee-wee level, but there have been seasons that ended with a loss, and that can be a tough pill to swallow.
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While it’s the job of the coaches to prepare the kids to play in a game, it’s the parents’ responsibility to do their part in helping their child prepare mentally for a game, what it all means, and what happens if the season ends without reaching the ultimate goal. Bradley is very competitive, so it’s been a challenge for my wife and I to harness his emotions, win or lose, and help him put everything in perspective.
So with the playoffs now upon us, here’s a to-do list for parents to get this kids ready for a game.
1. Stick to the routine. If you have a certain routine during the regular season, just stay the course. The only difference could be arriving at the field earlier than normal if the coach wants to get some extra work in. But a child should still go through the same pregame routine like eating a good breakfast, getting dressed at a certain time, and listening to music in the car.
2. Put it all in perspective. It’s not always easy to reason with a child, but a parent should also discuss all the possibilities of what could happen. If you win, you have every right in the world to be excited and to celebrate. If you lose, it’s OK to be disappointed. We also try to remind Bradley is that a loss shy of a championship is not the end of the world, as it’s not the last game you’ll ever play and it’s time to just turn your attention to what’s next, like the next sports season.
3. Don’t get into X’s and O’s. As your child goes through the week preparing for the game, leave the game strategies to the coaches at practice. I’m not saying you shouldn’t discuss what happened at practice and what the coaches’ message was, but the last thing you want to do is throw your two cents into the game plan. If you tell your child something different than what the coach has taught in practice, you’re only asking for trouble.
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4. Hugs, Hunger and Hand-Held Devices. When your children win a playoff game, they deserve a big hug at the end of the game. In reality, children deserve a hug win or lose because it takes a lot of courage and commitment to step on that field every week. Before the game, I would let your child pick out the location for the postgame meal regardless of the outcome.
Whether it’s a victory meal or not, it’s important for a kid to be around family and even a few teammates if possible. You might want to ask some other parents what they’re doing after the game, because a group meal just might be the best way to finish off a big day of football.
Children are also likely to take out the phone or tablet to share the good news about the win or maybe just play a game or two to take their minds off the loss. A limited time on the phone after the game is OK, but it’s probably a better idea for children to spend more time relaxing and perhaps talking about what happened that day.
If your child is playing in a playoff game this weekend, good luck! Just be sure they’re ready to go and make sure they have fun!
Peter Schwartz is a sports anchor for the CBS Sports Radio Network and WCBS 880 Radio in New York. His older son, Bradley, plays youth football on Long Island while his younger son, Jared, plays flag football. Peter, his wife Sheryl and the boys are busy cheering on the New York Jets when they’re not at a youth football field.