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After A Loss: Advice for Parents

Dealing With Child's Ups and Downs Key to Successful Youth Sports Experience

Chances are you've heard the saying "You win some. You lose some. Some get rained out." In a few short sentences, it captures the relaxed attitude parents should have about youth sports experience.

No matter how talented your child may be, there are going to be days when he doesn't play his best or when, despite his best effort, his team loses. How you manage both the ups and the inevitable downs will play a large role in whether your child has a successful youth sports experience. 

Here's some advice for parents after a sub-par sports performance or their child's team loses:

  1. Realize that with time, experience, and your continued support your child will improve.
  2. Recognize that youth sports are not exclusively about winning. Define success in terms of performance and effort instead of outcomes. Sad girl's basketball player in gym
  3. Give your child the respect he deserves. If achieving athletic success were easy, athletes wouldn't be so admired and respected. Be proud of his persistence.
  4. Emphasize the friends your child is making through her involvement in sports. Discussing the social aspects of her youth sports experience is preferable to critiquing her performance. Chances are the social aspects, such as the camaraderie of her teammates, are what she wants to talk about after a tough loss. The social aspect of sports is important to both girls and boys, albeit for different reasons.
  5. Remember that many times all your child needs is your love and understanding and your being there for him. Be sure to validate his feelings.
  6. Make your child feel important and accepted, no matter whether he wins or loses, plays well or poorly.Accept your child for who he is, not for what he has achieved. Acceptance must never be dependent on a good performance or winning.
  7. Take a positive approach, developing and maintaining open lines of communication with your child, even when your points of view on a given subject differ. Talk things out, and give him the benefit of your point of view. Don't simply say yes or no-let the final decision be your child's. Giving your child the right to express his opinions fosters self-reliance, self-responsibility, and ultimately the ability to think for himself.
  8. Always take the time to help your child reevaluate his involvementt (reasons, values, goals, and commitment). This helps your child gain a sense of self-control and self-direction and fosters increases self-motivation. It is important for young players to be praised for their mature and responsible decisions more than their actual playing performance. For example, say, "I'm really proud of the way that you got all of your equipment together and made it to your game on time even though some of your friends were having a birthday party. You are showing real maturity";
  9. Engage in careful, active listening. Show through your nonverbal communications (posture, facial expressions, and gestures) that you are really paying attention. Employ "active" listening: paraphrase what you feel or understand your child has said. This allows your child to reinterpret if he or she feels that the point has been misunderstood or restate what was said. Use bridges such as "I see," "yes," or "uh-huh" to show that you are listening and understand.
  10. Periodically evaluate your involvement and ask for feedback. Every so often, it is a good idea to make sure you haven't become an over-involved parent, one who places her own needs ahead of her child's. Because it is hard to be objective, ask your spouse or another parent with a child on the team to give you their honest assessment. If they tell you that you are acting less as a supportive parent and more as a critical coach, if they say you appear to always be giving advice or critiquing your child's athletic performance, it is a warning sign that you are becoming over-involved and need to step back.

Adapted from the book, Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports (HarperCollins) by Brooke de Lench, MomsTeam founder and publisher, blogger and youth sports expert.

Do you have some advice for parents in talking to their child after his team loses or he doesn't perform at his best? E-mail them to us at delench@momsteam.com or share them on MomsTeam's Facebook page.

Updated December 2, 2013

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