Guest post: The Ride Home

The most important thing to say to your child
is how much you enjoyed watching them play

By Linda Crum, Executive Director of the Positive Coaching Alliance Colorado

Spring sports season has arrived for many young athletes around the Denver Metro area. Youth and high school sports can provide many opportunities for children to develop important character rich life skills. How parents view the car ride home Kids-and-Cargo-TrueCar-pricing-Thinkstock-82047570with their children post game plays an important role in developing a positive sports experience for their children. As parents, we can sometimes get wrapped up in the post-game adrenaline and lose sight of the big picture – focusing on the scoreboard and performance instead of the numerous teachable moments. Rather than breaking down the game, use this special time to be the listener and let your child take the lead in discussion about the game.

The most important thing you can say to your young athletes is how much you enjoyed watching them play. It doesn’t matter if they won, lost or tied. Kids want to know that you’re proud and support them. The car ride is a good time to listen, and reinforce your support for your child, their teammates and coaches. If your child doesn’t talk about having fun, then you may want to find out why, but always remind your child that you enjoyed watching.

Wining the Game
Kids and parents love to see a positive outcome on the scoreboard, but it is important not to focus solely on the score or their performance. It is vital for children to understand how the process that leads to winning is more important. Focusing on the things they can control, like their effort and bouncing back from mistakes, ultimately leads to better scoreboard results and winning.

Praise your child for how they played the game; maybe they picked up a player from the opposing team when they fell down, or encouraged a teammate. Caring about teammates, honoring the game and loving your sport should be a part of the experience for athletes at all levels. Honoring the game is often a missing element in sports. Athletes can still be serious competitors while showing respect for teammates, opponents, coaches and officials. It is important for parents to recognize when kids demonstrate these qualities during sports.

Losing the Game
The car ride home might not be the appropriate time to have a conversation with your child after a difficult loss. It’s important for parents to know that the car ride home, in most cases, is not the moment for teaching. Often, emotions are high, and disappointment, frustration or exhaustion may be heightened. This might be the time to give your child a hug, tell them you enjoyed watching and turn on some music. Depending on your child, the ride home might be a time for self-reflection. When the timing is right there are plenty of teachable moments after a loss.

What might have seemed like a disappointing loss or a failure by your child can become an opportunity to reinforce resiliency and adaptability. A tough competition in forbiddingly hot, cold, or nasty weather can prompt a conversation with your child about learning to enjoy challenges. Setbacks and mistakes provide a chance for kids to learn to struggle, and there is no safer place for kids to learn to struggle, adapt and overcome when things don’t go well than sports.

Whether your child succeeds or fails on the playing field, you will be able to use the experiences to reinforce the kind of person you want him or her to be. We all want the very best for our kids, and it can be hard to watch them fall down, but that is how we develop character. Our role as parents is to support our children to succeed in life. Making the ride home a loving and encouraging experience instead of a replay of mistakes is important to developing an athlete that loves their sport and strives to make themselves, teammates and the game better.


Linda Crum is executive director of the Colorado chapter of the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA). PCA provides resources for youth and high school sports coaches, parents, administrators and student-athletes. In addition to hundreds of free audio-video and printable tips and tools at www.PCADevZone.org, PCA has partnered with roughly 3,000 schools and youth sports organizations nationwide to deliver live group workshops, online courses and books that help those involved in youth and high school sports create a positive, character-building youth sports culture that develops better athletes, better people.