What to Say to Your Kid Before and After a Game to Avoid Permanently Damaging Your Relationship

Do you find yourself lost on what to say to your child before and after a game?

Kids are generally highly emotional before and after a game. Many parents who honestly don’t know any better say the wrong things at the wrong time that affect their children’s performance and even their perception of the game and themselves as players.

You don’t have to make the same mistakes that millions of parents already had. In this blog post, we’ll share the right and wrong things to say before and after a game (if they won and if they lost).

what-to-say-to-your-kids-before-and-after-a-game


BEFORE THE GAME

Before the game, some parents resort to motivational messages to the likes of “Give it your all or go home,” and some play the coach and tell their kids what to do during the game.

What should we really say to our kids before a game? Should we tell them they can do it, do your best, you need to watch out for Number 5?

Tim Elmore, a student leadership development expert, shared that a body of research shows that the healthiest things parents can say to kids before a game are:

  1. Have fun.
  2. Play hard.
  3. I love you

That’s it. No coaching, no winding pep talk.

Bruce E. Brown and Rob Miller of Proactive Coaching LLC also have interesting findings to share with us. Both of them are former longtime coaches, and in their years of practice have asked college athlete what their parents said before a game that made them feel great and let them enjoy their game more.   

Here’s the overwhelming response:

“I love to see you play.”

This statement is filled with warmth and lets parents show their kids how proud they are. It isn’t overbearing, intrusive, pressuring, and it’s not focused on performance. You just love to see them play.

precious kid eye on the ball

Here’s another source of inspiration:

Patrick Cohn, a sports psychologist, did a video with his kid Paula on what parents should say to kids before a game. Here’s what she said:

“Tell them, ‘Good luck,’ ‘Have fun,’ or ‘It doesn’t matter if you win or lose”.

She adds that as for pre-game pep talks, it’s alright if it’s encouraging and as long as parents don’t “go on and on and on”.

 

AFTER THE GAME

The car ride back home after a game is often a battlefield between parents and kids - but it shouldn’t be if only parents knew the right things to say.

If they won:

1. NEVER criticize their performance no matter how “constructive” you make it seem.

No, Dad, Mom, it’s not cool to point how Junior who just won the game could have made more points if he just twisted his ankles the right way. It would just be pouring cold water on a burning fire. They’ll only feel hurt, lose interest in whatever else you have to say, and feel like they’re never doing enough to make you proud. Trust me, these misplaced “constructive criticisms” can prove rather destructive down the road.

karen ho canada gif you stop that

2. Focus on their character and not their performance.

The pitfall in always focusing on how well your child plays is, if you’re not being careful, it will come across as if your approval of your child hinges on their performance. So after saying, “You played so well out there,” squeeze in “It’s clear that you really gave your best and played well with your team”. This will tell them that teamwork and striving for excellence are also important characteristics to develop.

3. “I’m so proud of you.”

Every kid wants to make their parents proud. You did, too, when you were young. A parent’s approval can mean the world to a child. Be genuinely proud of how much they’ve accomplished, how hard they worked, and how they get more mature as they play. And make sure you tell them!



If they lost:

Now this is trickier, but if there’s one thing to remember, it’s all about TIMING.

1. On the car ride back home:

Don’t say anything about the game. None at all. Give them space as they process what just happened. Let them feel their emotions. As parents, we’re tempted to always run to the rescue when we see our little cubs getting hurt, but letting them go through their emotions will help them grow up as emotionally intelligent adults.

But sitting there in silence is equally terrible, so try to lighten the mood by playing music, cracking a joke, or asking where they want to eat.

2. Let them come to you. 

The second rule is you should never force them to talk. Once you get home, they will likely head straight to their room. The first thing to do is to knock on their door with some cookies or their favorite food. Ask if you can come in. If they say no, respect that. But if they say yes, that’s a good sign that they’re willing to talk.

Sit beside them and gently ask how they are feeling. Ask if they want to talk about it. The key here is to let them lead the conversation. If you’re the one who’s doing most of the talking, something’s wrong. Stop talking and let your kid spill his/her heart out. Let your child feel that you’re willing to listen and you won’t judge them whatever they may be feeling. Tell them you’ll always have their back no matter what happens.

3. Talk about the little wins.

For a kid, losing can feel like a whole mountain dropped on them, making it hard for them to see the positive side to the situation. Point out the good things that happened or the “little wins” so they won’t feel like the whole situation is a giant mess.

4. NEVER talk crap about their teammates or the opposing team.

This is a low move by parents who don’t realize the grave effects this could have. Talking negatively about their teammates is considered as gossip and isn’t helpful at all. Blaming will not do your child any good. Same thing with the opposing team. You gotta show your child what sportsmanship is like, so acknowledge that they played well but your kid can always improve based on how hard s/he works for it.

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And those are the right and wrong things to say to a child before a game. Now it's your turn. Do you have any tips you can share with us? Leave a quick comment below!

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