Last month, we talked about ways to help your child regain or build confidence. One of the suggested actions was communicating with them to provide a space for them to express their fears and doubts. This month we continue to focus on our communications with our athletes by looking at our conversations during the car ride to, or from, their practices and games.
*Please note – this article is intended to address normal pre and post activity situations. If a youth athlete exhibits unhealthy, unsafe, or aggressive behavior before, during, or after a game or practice it should be dealt with by the parent in a more direct and immediate fashion.
Every Athlete is Different
Before diving into the Pre and Post conversations it is important to keep in mind that every athlete is different, even within the same family. Knowing your athlete is an important part of the communication process. Is your child self-motivated, focused, lazy, competitive, intimidated, aggressive? All of these will dictate how much of a pre-game pep talk they need or want. Some kids rise to the occasion every game or practice and don’t need a reminder to focus. Others need a gentle push. Still others will resist any suggestions parents give them on the way to a game. So, choose wisely.
Things you MAY want to talk about on the way to the game or practice
- THEY LEAD – Let them guide the conversation, both content and timing
- PLAYER’S VISION – get their view, or thoughts, on what they think will happen at the practice or game. Ask them to name three ways they can support their team and teammates during the activity.
- TALK ABOUT GOALS – As previously stated in prior newsletters, setting goals prior to games or practices can help players establish a focus. Be sure that these are process-based and under the control of the athlete. Goals, assists, saves, shutouts, and wins ARE NOT under the control of the athlete. Trying a new move, performing a tactic that the coach has worked on, effort, attitude, teamwork, etc. are process related and controllable.
- POSITIVE MESSAGES – stay away from coaching them but provide supportive messages that reinforce
- It is OK to be nervous, use that ENERGY
- Express yourself-in talk and in action
- Take risks and challenge yourself
- Mistakes are going to happen, it will be OK
- Listen to your coach
Things you MAY want to do or say on the way home from the game or practice
- THEY LEAD – Let them guide the conversation, both content and timing.
- Allow for quiet time after the conclusion of an event
- Allow them to feel the emotions they are experiencing, whether it is the joy from a win or great performance, or the disappointment from a loss or poor performance
- Leave the game or practice breakdown for later, and only if they ask for input
- When they do want to talk, focus on listening more than talking and guide them with open questions-
- “Did you do your best?”
- “What did you learn?”
- “Did you have fun?” or “Was there something you enjoyed?”
- Ask them if they are hungry
Final Thought – Less May Be More
Despite all of the prior suggestions, many researchers in both youth sport and youth develop suggest that, as parents and in our role as supporters of our children, the best way to have a positive impact on our children before and after practice or a game may be as easy as three statements:
Before the Competition:
- Have fun.
- Play hard.
- I love you.
After the competition:
- Did you have fun?
- I’m proud of you.
- I love you.
PS – While working on this article I came across an excerpt from a John Wooden book that didn’t quite fit the content of this article but that I thought had a powerful message. I encourage you to read it.
The Car Ride
To further explore this topic, we caught up with a few of our Kings Hammer players to ask them about their car ride conversations before and after a game. You can watch that video below.