“Come on! What was that?!” a fellow basketball parent shouted at his son from the bleachers next to me. I watched his son’s reaction. He cringed every time his dad opened his mouth (which was often), and sometimes looked on the verge of tears. This guy had no idea how he affected his 11-year-old boy.
The fact is, it’s easy to get caught up in the competition of a game. Even the most chill parents often say things to or around their child that have the opposite effect of what they intended. These words can ruin the sport for the child and leave lasting scars. Here are 5 things not to say to your sports kid.
“Here’s what you did wrong today.”
You may not say it like that, but things like “How could you miss that catch,” “Why did you let that goal get past you,” “Whoa, where was your head today,” or “Next time, remember to do this…” highlight the low points of your child’s performance. While you think you are educating or motivating your child, it likely won’t be received that way. A teenager I talked to said, “You don’t need to tell us what we did wrong. We already know.”
“If you score, I’ll give you 10 bucks!”
I get it; you’re trying to motivate your kid and this one might pack a pretty good punch. But think long-term. Are you going to keep paying 10 bucks for every goal with every child? Also, bribes focus on the individual rather than teamwork. It pushes the kid to get the point on his or her own rather than by doing whatever he or she needs to do to help the team—which might be an assist rather than a goal.
“The official (or coach) had it in for you today!”
Even though you’re just trying to take the pressure off, this is one of the things not to say to your sports kid. Blaming the officials or coaches for what went wrong in the game undermines their authority and fosters a victim mentality. Yes, officials and coaches make mistakes, but talking badly about them in front of your child will not help anything. If you want your children to be respectful of adults and take responsibility for themselves, this is a perfect opportunity to model that attitude.
“It’s just a game.”
To children at that moment, it’s more than a game; it’s everything. Minimizing their feelings will not make them suddenly gain adult perspective. Sit with them in the intensity of the moment. Let them lead the conversation. As one parent suggested, “Hash out the game in the car on the way home, but let the kids know that once we reach the front door, we let it go and focus on the next thing.”
Anything that should be the coach’s job
You might need duct tape for this one because it’s tough. It’s so hard not to coach your children as you watch them play a sport—knowing all their tendencies and feeling almost as if your heart, soul, and reputation are out there on the field. But when you coach from the sidelines, you can distract, demean, embarrass, and confuse your child. Let the coach do his or her job, and instead, become your child’s biggest fan.
Get some new phrases to put on repeat instead. For example, before the game, say something like, “How are you feeling,” or “Play hard and have fun!” During the game, cheer your heart out. And after the game, try “I really enjoyed watching you play.”
What else would you add to the list of things not to say to your sports kid? How do you keep your words in check during a game?