How Do I Talk to My Child After a Meet or Practice?

How Do I Talk to My Child After a Meet or Practice?

By Positive Coaching Alliance in collaboration with USA Gymnastics

One of the most important spaces a sports parent operates in is the time after practice or a meet, especially during the car ride home. During this time, gymnasts are likely more focused and critical of their performance. Of course, this focus can swing different ways depending on the outcome of that meet and how emotionally ready that child feels to discuss what happened.

It is important that parents intentionally converse with their children about the youth sports experience. However, too often that means the parents talk and the child listens; it’s better when children talk more than the parent and the parent listens more than talks. Parents are advised to wait and see, rather than force their child to talk about the meet. The number one responsibility for sports parents is to be encouraging and supporting, so if a child doesn’t feel ready or willing to communicate about his or her sporting experience, try talking about something else and coming back to the topic of the meet later. Or better yet, wait until your child initiates a conversation about the meet.

Once your child opens the doors to talking about the meet, parents should aim to take the focus away from the outcome, and put it on the lessons that can be learned. This helps tie a child’s sport experience to something bigger than the scoreboard, a critical component of being a Second-Goal Parent®. It is important for parents to let the child lead those conversations. If your child is leading the conversation, it is alright to engage in a supportive way. We recommend open-ended questions and always encourage parents to say, “I just love watching you play.” Parents should not analyze and criticize their children after a meet, especially when they are already doing it to themselves. Here are more suggestions about engaging your children in a conversation about their practice and/or meet, and other suggestions for making the car ride home a positive experience:

  • Establish Your Goal – A Conversation Among Equals. Remind yourself that the youth sports experience belongs to your child, not to you. Your goal is to convey support and unconditional love, not necessarily advice on how to become a better gymnast.
  • Adopt a Tell-Me-More Attitude. Let your children know you really want to hear what they have to say, and then listen – even if you don’t agree with it or like it. Think of the conversation as an Olympic event with judges, where scoring a 10 depends on the child talking and the parent listening.
  • Use Open-Ended Questions. Some questions elicit one-word responses: “How was school today?” “Fine.” Ask questions that require longer, more thoughtful responses. “What was the most enjoyable part of today’s practice?” or “What did you learn today?” or “What can you improve on next time?”
  • Ask About Life-Lesson and Character Issues. For example: “Any thoughts on what you’ve learned in practice this week that might help you with other parts of your life?”
  • Show You Are Listening. Make it obvious you are paying attention through use of nonverbal actions such as making eye contact and nodding your head or making “listening noises” (“uh-huh…interesting…tell me more,” etc.).
  • Let Your Child Set the Terms. Forcing a conversation soon after competition, when emotions may still run high, is often less successful than waiting until your children indicate they are ready to talk. (Boys may take longer than girls to talk about an experience.) Open-ended questions may prompt more substantive conversations, but they need not always be lengthy to be effective. Defer to your children’s wishes for a brief discussion. Forcing longer conversations will lead to your children avoiding them. And don’t be afraid of silence. Stick with it and your child will open up to you.
  • Connect Through Activity. Playing a board game or tossing a ball around can allow space for children to share their thoughts and feelings. This is especially important for boys, who often resist a direct adult-style of conversation.
  • Enjoy. The most important reason to listen to your children with a tell-me-more attitude is because then they will want to talk to you, and as you all grow older, you will learn there is no greater gift than a child who enjoys conversations with you.

At the end of the day, having fun is the #1 reason children play sports. Children don’t only find passion in sports by having success or winning, but there are other takeaways, such as enjoying spending time out on the mat with their friends, learning about the sport, and seeing improvement (big or small). And when the time comes to talk to you children about their experience, don’t forget that your child wants you to be their parent, first, not their coach.

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