Too many parents are wrapped up in analyzing their child’s game performance immediately following the final whistle. Before their little tyke even snaps the seatbelt into place they pepper their child with questions:
- “How did you feel you played today?”
- “Why did you miss those two easy ground balls?
- “How come you didn’t pass the ball to that open player on the crease?
This is truly counterproductive and, I believe, damaging to your child’s participation in youth sports. Is it fair to question a ten-year-old child the same way reporters question Nick Saban after an Alabama game? No!
You may think you are doing your child a favor by immediately questioning them after a game. The reasoning is they will forget the game situation you are talking about if you wait until dinner or the next day before school. Much better to assail your child with queries on how they performed so it sticks with them until their next game. That way they’ll remember your wise words of counsel and not make the same mistakes the week before. Despite your best intentions, your post game analysis with your child is absolutely absurd.
When I coach youth kids after a win, loss or tie I always remind them to forget about the game. The game is in the past and the past is dead. They cannot go back and change how they did. They can only move forward. Constantly reminding your child about their mistakes after a game just keeps them in the past. When they finally get to their next game they will be so nervous about not making a mistake that they will probably make several. You think you are keeping your kid focused on their improvement, but you are actually hampering their development as a player. I know this because I’ve seen it firsthand.
I was officiating a tournament a few years ago and right when we stopped the game for halftime a father vaulted over the fence and ran to his son, the goalkeeper. I was seventy yards away, but I could hear the dad crystal clear because he was screaming vociferously. He berated his son’s play in the previous half and asked what in the world his son was thinking. I calmly walked over and told the father that fans were not permitted on the field. He said one more thing to his son and then stormed off. In the second half the goalkeeper’s team played very good lacrosse, but the kid was a mess. He was letting outside shots get by him that he had saved in the first half. His confidence was shot and he was so worried about playing badly that he played even worse. Here is the kicker – this kid was a junior in high school. If a sixteen or seventeen year old kid completely tanks in a game after his dad’s little talk what do you think is going through the mind your eight, nine, or ten-year-old player?
How did you teach your child to ride a bike for the first time? You were patient and firm. You kept your child that if they kept at it they will be able to ride the bike. When they fell down, you helped pick them up. When they skinned their knee on the concrete you bandaged the scrape. When they got in the car for a ride to school did you question them on their performance learning how to ride? I’m willing to bet significant sums of money that you did not. In lacrosse, and in all youth sports, your child is simply learning a new skill. Just like riding a bike.
I am not going to leave you with just why you should not engage in a post game analysis with your child. There is a responsible way to question and interact with your child after a game, and I am going to explain how:
- Let your child bring up the game – Do not be the first to ask how the game went when you get into the car or sit down for dinner. Let your child bring up how the game went. Believe me, your child is analyzing and critiquing their game in their head, and they need no added thoughts until they are satisfied with theirs. But Gordon, what if my child does not bring up the game? Am I supposed to just let his good performance go without recognition, or his poor performance slide? Yes!
- The Praise Sandwich – in “Parenting Young Athletes the Ripken Way: Ensuring the Best Experience for Your Kids in Any Sport,” Cal Ripken explains the Praise Sandwich. It is two parts praise to one part question. For example, “Johnny I really liked how you picked up that tough ground ball in the first half. Do you think you had some trouble knowing where you should shoot from? No matter what, I had a lot of fun watching you play and I hope you had fun too.” This is an excellent technique and one that I use frequently when coaching youth players. I always start off with a positive, slide easily into a question about what was going through the young player’s mind, and then finish with a positive affirmation. The player does not get his confidence crushed. In fact, they often respond with more capable play the next time they hit the field.
- Avoid “I” statements – You are not playing the game. Your child is playing the game. Right now it is their game, not yours. When you state, “I would have done so and so,” you are injecting yourself into your child’s game. Instead ask, “What do you think you could have done differently in that situation?” That question puts the onus on the player to come up with their own idea for their own game. You’ll be surprised how insightful the answer can be.
- Surprise your kid occasionally – Go out and get some ice cream or your child’s favorite pizza joint. Not after every game, but maybe after every third or fourth game. Tell your kid that you’ve been so proud of how much they’ve been hustling or listening to their coach that you decided to reward them. It is imperative that you focus on their broad performance rather then specific game situations for the reward. If you say, “You scored three goals today so I’m going to take you out for ice cream,” it makes the kid think he must reach that goal threshold to get a reward. Instead, take your kid out for ice cream because he ran super hard to play defense all game. That is a broader performance criteria that I believe any kid can reach.
Now you should know that I say all of the above not having kids of my own. I am speaking from all of the observations that I have witnessed on and off the lacrosse field. I’ve seen dejected kids not wanting to leave the sideline because they know they are in for a verbal tongue-lashing from mom or dad. I’ve watched parents take stats of their kids and then pour over them with their child. I have seen high school players and youth players crumble under the pressure imposed by their well-intentioned, but misguided parents. I highly recommend reading Cal Ripken’s book. It puts a lot of things in perspective and delves into more detail than I do here. It is my hope that any parent reading this will understand how to best approach their child after a competitive game. Do it right and your child will be a sports fan for life.