The car ride home has been highlighted by children across the globe as one the worst aspects of playing sport.

Why? Because many parents use the time to fire a barrage of questions to relive and analyse the match, as well as teach, preach, criticize and critique the players, their child, and the officials. No matter how well intentioned, the car ride home is not the time to interrogate your child. It can cause resentment, crush their confidence and result in your son or daughter questioning why they even play.

The reality is your child has probably already started to reflect their own performance, including beating themselves up for mistakes made. So if anything, they don’t need their effort questioned, or to be reminded of their mistakes or pulled into a negative hypothetical situation, when all they really need, is your positive support.

Here are our suggestions to make the journey home more enjoyable.

1. Let Your Child Initiate the Conversation
Most children are usually emotionally and physically fatigued following their game. Some may need to unwind and digest the match in their own time or not want to talk about anything at all. Others may be totally comfortable talking about the game – especially if it was a good one. No matter, we suggest that ideally, you let your child start and end the conversation when they are ready. If you are not sure, ask your child whether they want to talk about their game and respect their answer.

2.  Limit Your Questions
That’s not to say that the car ride home has to be done in complete silence. If you do want to open up a conversation with your child, limit your question to “How did you feel about the game?” 

Asking your child how they felt about the game is a great way for parents to open up an impartial conversation. Importantly though, this is not the time to probe further. Just listen carefully to your child’s feedback and raise any important information later for when you can have a more meaningful conversation.

3. Be Their Biggest Fan
“I really like watching you play. That tackle you made on number 10 in the first half was fantastic.”

Regardless of how they played, provide your child with unconditional support and genuine praise. Be their biggest fan and supporter, during the good times and especially the bad. Providing your child with feedback on how proud you are of them can make them feel like a million dollars. If things have been tough, help them see the bigger picture and let them know that the outcome of one game does not determine all their future successes. Read our blog for 6 Words You Should Say to Your Child Today.

4. Acknowledge Their Effort
“I saw you try that pass today, the one you have been practicing. Well done, it was great to see you try it.”
“Hey well done today, you looked like you were trying your hardest out there.”

Children love to know that you saw them try their best, even if they didn’t win. They get a great sense of pride when they know that you have watched them, and you have seen them try to do something that they have been practicing, particularly when it comes off in a game. Acknowledging this and explaining to them that you saw this happen, and that all of the hard work and practicing has paid off, will be music to their ears.

Remember if you knock or doubt effort, children will often give up and not bother trying as hard next time. If you can focus on the effort they gave and acknowledge them for it, then this will go a long way to helping them build mental toughness and a never give-up attitude.

Every child is different, but we’re confident they’ll appreciate you taking on board our tips to make it a great ride home, by stopping the interrogation and simply letting them play and enjoy their game. Remember children primarily play sport to have fun and hang out with their mates. They are not professional athletes – it is a time for them to learn and develop in their sport. Even a simple hug or high-five after each game will let them know you are their biggest fan.

Why does it matter?

The benefits of participation in sport range from enhancing long-term mental and physical health, learning social skills, improving motor skills to those things children themselves already recognise like enjoying themselves and making friends.

There are many flow-on effects for the family and community; from the experience mums and dads share with their children to the overall value of a healthier population. This only happens if kids continue to play sport, so focusing on creating positive fun sporting environments is crucial to keeping them active for longer and ensuring better long-term results for them and the community.

And yes, centering the junior sport experience around a fun and positive experience even has long-term benefits for the small percentage of kids who eventually transition into elite sport.

The Good Sports Spine

Have a look at our Good Sports Spine, a tool we’ve created to help adults in children’s sport understand how they impact a child’s sporting experience and ultimately help adults help kids fall in love with sport for life.