Three Keys to an Open Conversation After Practice

Three Keys to an Open Conversation After Practice

By David Benzel

Learning new skills is messy, slow, uncooperative, and almost always uneven. In youth sports, much like real life, there are above average days, below average days, and a ton of just average days. Improving skills is a slow process. The patient and persistent athlete is rewarded for putting in a consistent effort, even on the days when it feels like “I’m not getting any better.”

It’s important for parents to be able to discuss what happened at practice with their children, but it’s even more crucial that those conversations don’t become an endless interrogation that a child begins to dread. In spite of a parent’s good intentions, it’s all too easy for a child to get the feeling that he or she is constantly being measured by practice performances.

So, how can you discuss the day’s practice with your young athlete without making a child feel like they’re being judged by the quality of the day’s performance?

Three keys will open the door to better conversations. First of all be “welcoming” to your child after practice, and communicate that you’re happy to see them. “It’s good to see you!”

Secondly, be “patient” – wait for your child to share whatever he or she feels like sharing. It might not be anything to do with the technical part of practice, but if it’s important to them, it should be important to us.

Lastly, be “curious” to learn more about what’s on their mind. “Tell me more” is a very valuable phrase to use after the conversation is underway. “What was your favorite part of practice?” is a much less intimidating statement than “How did you DO?”

You don’t have to discuss everything that happens on the field or in the gym with your child, but it’s appropriate to “touch base” occasionally about things like the overall learning environment: “How does your coach talk to the kids when he’s teaching?” “What kinds of things is the coach having you work on?” The goal of asking these questions is to learn, not to judge.

It’s important for parents to learn how coaches are treating athletes during practices and competitions; i.e. is it respectful? Is it safe physically and emotionally? For example, if a coach yelled at the child or singled them out during practice, was it constructive?

Staying in the know about the coach’s methods of coaching and the disciplinary environment at practice and events allows parents to better support their children throughout their athletic journey.

Here are some questions that can help sports parents have honest discussions with their young athletes:

  • “How does your coach act when he/she is upset with the kids?”
  • “How does your coach react to trouble makers during practice?”
  • “Is there anything that happens during practices that makes you feel uncomfortable?”

Regardless of the day’s performance, there are several alternatives that work better than an inquisition. Remember, no one knows your child like you do. Say a quick “It’s good to see you!” when your child jumps in the car after practice or a game, and then turn on your internal radar to catch the mood of your child. He or she may wish to sit in silence in the safety of your presence for a while before discussing the day’s events. There’s nothing wrong with that! Sometimes our kids just need some peace and quiet…just like adults.

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David Benzel is the Founder and Executive Director of Growing Champions for Life, Inc., which provides parents and coaches with practical tools & positive strategies for helping athletes reach their full potential while enjoying the youth sport experience. David is also the author of “From Chump to Champ – How Individuals Go From Good to Great”