The final seconds tick off the clock. Painfully slow. Your heart drops, not because your child’s team has lost, but because you know the hurt they now feel. You and your child both know you can’t win them all, but that doesn’t dull the pain. Your mind begins to think about the countless hours of practice, the driving, the sacrificed weekends, the financial commitment, doctor visits, and ice buckets. A lot has gone into this sport and this season. How do you handle this loss? How do you support your child immediately after the game?
As parents our first instinct is to protect our children. Sometimes this instinct will lead us into making quick, foolish, and brash decisions. Your actions and words after a tough loss will have a great impact on how your child handles and moves on from it. Here are five ways to support your child.
Don’t talk about the outcome. First, make sure you give the coach his or her time alone with the team. Do not try to talk to your child or undermine the coach before the team conversation in the locker room. After the coaches have their time, just meet your child and give them a warm embrace. Don’t mention the score, the loss, or finality of the season if it were the last game. A loving hug will go a long ways.
Say the four magic words. “I’m proud of you.” There is nothing more your child wants to hear, especially after a tough loss. Kids need to hear appreciation and validation. Praise their effort. Emphasize the values they displayed along with their teammates. It’s also important to tell your child you love to watch them play. Words of encouragement are also appropriate after the game, such as: “You’ll be very good if you continue to put in the effort and play with that level of character. I’m proud of you.”
Don’t re-live the game. The number one mistake parents make after games, especially losses, is immediately replaying the game in the car. This is never a good idea. Emotions are still too raw, and generally this turns into a blame game or an attack on the child. Your child does not want to hear about what they or their teammates did wrong in the first period. Your intentions as a parent might very well be good, but your child does not want to rehash the game in the car. Maybe tomorrow or later in the evening, but give it some time and let emotions come down.
Don’t assign blame. Absolutely do not blame your child’s mistakes for the game’s outcome. Don’t blame their teammate’s errors, the coaches, or officials. It’s very easy, and unfortunately all too common, for parents to talk negatively about teammates, coaches, and officials after a loss. This sets a bad precedent and completely undermines the team camaraderie and goals. It teaches your child that it is okay to blame others and not take responsibility. By blaming others and pointing fingers at teammates it will push your child towards becoming an uncoachable player. They’ll become uncoachable because they will have lost trust and respect through these negative conversations. And believe me, teammates and coaches know when these conversations have happened. Kids don’t hide it very well. Their body language begins to speak volumes. Remember, uncoachable kids become unemployable adults.
Focus on tomorrow. Remember, it’s just a game and the sun will come up tomorrow. Every day is new opportunity. Here’s something you can say to your child, “Let’s not rehash this tonight. It’s too fresh. Let’s go do something fun together and talk tomorrow.” By doing this, we let our child know the loss is not the end of the world, and there will be another opportunity. Some ideas of activities to do after the game would include: getting ice cream, going to or renting a movie, going out for pizza, playing video games together, or just having a family night together at home.
Losing is inevitable. It’s going to happen. How we respond to the losses will greatly influence how our children respond as well. Why do we love sports? Why do we want our children to play sports? Because sports are a microcosm for life. How we respond to adversity in sport trains us for handling adversity in life.
Teaching and modeling character, integrity, and resiliency through sport is extremely important for the growth of our children. I would suggest saying the following daily to your child:
“Do we ever give up?”
“What do we do?”
We get up and try again.
That’s all that matters. Getting back up after you’ve been knocked down.
It’s youth sports. Remember what’s most important. These tips for handling losses with your children will go a long way in their personal development. This approach will help your child overcome adversity and be a valuable team member.