The Power We Wield: After the Game

The Power We Wield: After the Game—on the Ride Homeboy with basketball

I have seen article after article about parents behaving badly during kids’ sporting events. Sure, it’s frustrating and hard to hear sometimes. It’s tough to see the looks on kids’ faces as they respond to the criticism or the embarrassment. But what about when these kids get in the car to drive home? What about our own kids on the drive home with us? As parents, we have incredible power to encourage, inspire, and draw close to our kids after an emotional sporting event. Or we have the power to discourage, crush, and isolate them after the same event.

I never really understood this power until Matthew drove home with another player and his dad after a tough game. Matthew slipped into the house silently, with down-cast eyes and slumped shoulders. I think he had been teary already and was unable to even talk about what was bothering him until a few hours later. He’d lost plenty of games before, so I knew something was different.

After wooing him with hot chocolate and mini marshmallows, Matthew finally spilled his story. This dad had expressed his intense frustration and disappointment about the boys’ level of play, effort, and ultimate loss of the game. He reviewed specific plays and listed a series of faults. He forecasted their negative future if they kept playing like that. He used colorful language to punctuate his displeasure. Wow.

While I could rant about the relationship damage this creates between father and son and the distrust that will make parenting in general more challenging, I’d rather focus on the missed opportunity. How can we connect with our kids on the long ride home after an emotional game. Here are a few ideas:


  • First and foremost, tell your child you enjoyed watching them play. Even if he or she “ had a bad game,” you still can tell them you enjoyed watching them do what they loved. “I love to watch you play!” is psychologically proven to be the healthiest statement you can make.
  • Care about the game as much as your child. For me that means that I have to care about it MORE than I usually would. Saying, “It’s no big deal!” isn’t helpful. I have to understand how important it is to Matthew and meet him there. Many parents may need to care about the game LESS. No blood will be spilled nor wars waged because some third graders didn’t get a ball through a hoop one more time before the buzzer.
  • Use physical touch to bridge the time between the end of a close game and when the child is ready to resume normal life. Tousle some hair, squeeze a shoulder, or pat a back. Give the look that says, “Wow, that was a tough one!”
  • Try to let the child lead the discussion so you know what he’s thinking, but don’t allow sulking/pouting for too long. This is a great opportunity to talk about not letting the game have power over our day. Allowing the final score of a game to impact how we approach our day is wrong. Sure, it can be frustrating to lose, but it should never have the power to damage relationships or tank the rest of the day.
  • Let the child critique his own play. You can store up successful moments to balance their critical review of the game, but kids don’t need to hear how they can improve on the ride home. 
  • You are raising a man or a woman–not an athlete. Take opportunities like these to talk about effort, winning, losing, disappointments, trophies, status, balance, sportsmanship, character, grumbling and complaining…
  • If a child feels like they “lost the game” for the team, would they have claimed to have “won the game” for the team if the result was different? It’s never all about one person on a team.
  • Talk about fun things to do at home. Let them KNOW that life goes on and the focus is not on any athletic event. 

With only one of the four boys as a fierce competitor, I don’t have tons of experience. But I know that those 20-30 minutes in the car after a game can be an incredible opportunity to teach and to draw closer to my son. 

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