Our children’s involvement in their sport is very much about them—but let’s be honest: It’s about us too. We make it that way. We get involved, we get invested (beyond the actual financial investment)—and sometimes, we let it be known. That’s all fine, but we need to remember that our kids are paying attention to what we say, how we react, and our attitudes. And, to them, it’s a direct reflection of our thoughts and reactions to them and to their performance. Nowhere does that strike harder than during the car ride home from practice or competition.
The car ride home after a great performance are typically the easy ones. They’re filled with enthusiasm and excitement and happiness. The rides after the “not great” ones tend to weigh a bit heavier for us. They both weigh on our children’s minds. Here are a few ways to make the thoughts your child leaves with more positive:
Be a supporter, not a judge. Leave the coaching to the coaches. That means don’t critique, don’t correct, and don’t give tips. Instead, focus your comments on being a true supporter. “I love watching you out there,” “I’m so proud of you for____,” “You really worked hard today!,” or other upfront, straight forward compliments that go a long way toward bolstering your youngster’s confidence and letting them know your approval.
Watch for what you don’t mean to say. Be careful that your encouragement does not leave room for interpretation as judgement. Sometimes, parents have a tendency to use “now just” kind of statements that we intend as encouragement—but to our young ones, they read as “it still isn’t good enough.” For example, “Great job with your handsprings! Now if you can just bring your feet closer together!” While we mean to compliment them, we do so in an unintentionally back-handed kind of way. Keep compliments as compliments: In other words, just stop.
Keep it positive. Restraining criticism and staying positive doesn’t end with your discussion about your child’s performance. Hold comments about the coach, judges and teammates and instead let your child share their thoughts with you. If you talk and they disagree or even think you’re taking sides, you may shade their impression of someone, their own performance or the sport.
Keep the dialogue open. Your child isn’t just paying attention to what you do say—they’re also picking up on your non-verbal cues. If you stay too quiet after a less-than-great practice, they’re aware. Don’t let it be a silent or curt ride home; open the dialogue and let them express themselves. Nothing to say? Try jamming out to a song you know they like.
Not all feelings are left on the floor. Make the most of the car ride home to be a positive, supporting parent—no matter how things went at the gym—and keep it about them, not you. Your child may not say thank you today, but they’ll carry the feeling and memory with them for years to come.
Natalie Vonlanthen is the owner of PCT Cheer and Tumble. She has worked with thousands of young women and men in her 30+ years of coaching.