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It is easy to mess up the car ride home. Kids have described it as a jail cell. They are stuck in the the car with an adult, they cannot get out, the doors are locked, they just got done being publicly judged for their play for 2-10 hours straight, and now they have to talk about their performance and their team’s performance for as long as it takes to get home. The walls are caving in, and all they want to do is be free. It can be a mess, if we let it be a mess.

But, the car ride home can also be an opportunity to teach your child to be a reasonable adult who has their priorities in order. A place where trust is built. Where relationships thrive. Show your child how you feel about them, by demonstrating that your attitude towards them has nothing to do with how well they play.

So how do we turn the car ride home into something that our kids enjoy?

  1. Keep it Light: You should address what you all just went through, but becoming Stephen A. Smith is not necessary. Try saying, “I really enjoyed watching you play today.” Or, if you didn’t enjoy their play (which does happen), say, “It was good to watch you and your team play today,” or “I’m excited to see the ways that your team continues to improve this season.” 
  2. Resist the need to fix them or their feelings. We see them hurting, we want to help them. Or say that magical thing. Sometimes just letting them stew in it, and go through it all in their head is more important. They learn the skills of reviewing what happened, deciding what they will pay attention to and asking for help if they want to, when they want to. Don’t sort it for them, or they won’t learn to do it themselves.
  3. Listen to Them: If they respond to #1, or eventually, to #2, let them talk. Whether it is about the game or something else. Just listen. If they ask you a question, you can answer unless it is about blaming others, or putting down a coach, official, or teammate. Just listen. Ask them to tell you more about it.
  4. Change the Subject.  If it gets negative or counterproductive, help them by changing the subject and take the focus off the event. Show them that game is not important enough to keep talking about in that unhealthy way. For most kids, the game was just a thing they did today. It wasn’t gaining status, or notoriety, or earning a scholarship. It was just a fun thing they tried to do today. Keep it that way. If we change the subject, we give them a chance to reinvest in all the other things that make them who they are.

If you are consistent with these four things, and your kids know what they can count on, the car ride home can be something that your child looks forward to. A safe place. A place devoid of “the noise.” A place where relationships thrive.

We all know that our time with our families goes fast!  Embrace the moments that you have with your children and help them develop positive sports memories by keeping the game as just the game. Follow these strategies to develop a healthier car ride home.

Content developed by Crystal Strickland (High School Varsity Basketball Coach) and Kevin Broene (Owner/Operator of Grit Leadership for Educational Athletics).

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