As we enter the fall season, with school sports in full swing and fall youth and club teams moving into league and tournament play, one of the most common questions I am asked my parents and athletes alike is, “What should we talk about after the game, especially in the car on the way home?” This is an interesting question and I believe there are several ways to answer it. After a game, participants and observers can all be physically and emotionally spent. Obviously, for the athlete, an athletic event can be a very physically draining experience. It can also be emotionally draining if the athlete didn’t get to play very much and sat on the bench for most of the event. For parents who watch the contest, emotions can be all over the place.
So after the game, what do you say? I’ve had numerous clients over the past few months who have presented this question. Some parents have told me that they feel they can ask anything they want, because after all, they are paying for everything from uniforms, to coaches and club fees, to traveling costs for food, hotels and transportation. They are taking their time to go the athletic event and have the right to ask their athlete why they did or did not play well.
I’ve had conflicting comments from athletes. Some have told me that they wish their parents wouldn’t say anything about the game on the drive home. They’d rather just go get something to eat and cool off, especially if they did not play well. They’d rather talk about how they played later. Others have told me that they feel pressure to have to talk about how they played. Many have told me their parents constantly badger them with comments and questions about how they played and often can get angry and upset about why they didn’t play well. Others have mentioned that they don’t mind talking about the event, but don’t want to get into a critique of their personal play right away in the car. Many have told me that they feel they have let their parents down if they didn’t perform well and feel their parents are upset at them because of this. Consequently, they often will tell me that their self-confidence has fallen because they feel they are not living up to their parents expectations.
So what is the best thing to do? I believe the answer revolves around communication. Before you go to the event you should have a game plan about how you would like to play and perform. In the same way, I think you should have a game plan about what to discuss after the game. What I have found works best for most is to have a discussion between athlete and parents about what and when to discuss the event after it’s over.
For most people, not talking about the event immediately after and on the drive home is probably the best suggestion. After you get home, let your athlete come to you to talk about the event. Let them bring it up. Ask your athlete what they want from you as a parent and tell them what you want as a parent. Many have told me they want to talk about where they are going to eat. Some like to talk about the event. Some want to put on their headphones and veg out. So the best answer is to come up with a game plan with your athlete and find out what they want. As difficult as it can be as a parent to want to talk about it, remember it can cause more problems if you don’t have a game plan that you all discuss together. If you have trouble keeping quiet, have a bag of Tootsie Pops next to you and stick one in your mouth.