Watching your kid(s) play sports is a privilege, but when it comes to providing feedback, it can become a source of contention.
Many kids resist listening to their parent’s advice about sports. Even though we’ve watched them since day one, know their tendencies, and have the best intentions, they often tune us out. But that resistance is sometimes based on timing and delivery. Kids and teens want feedback because it’s about them and they want to excel. They just may not want to talk about it right after the game, all negative, and all the time.
Here are some suggestions how and when to relay observations and advisement to your kids effectively.
Timing – Be Patient
Timing is the most important factor in getting your kid to listen. The walk to the car is not the time, nor is the ride home. It’s too soon and can be counter-productive. Emotions from the game are still present and time needs to pass.
It’s not just the kid that needs time to settle. You need it as well. By later that night or the next day, perspective will prevail over emotions and your delivery will be far better. You’ll have time to orchestrate your commentary, rather firing from the hip.
Abiding by this approach is difficult. There will be times that you’re tempted to bring up mistakes right away. Stay disciplined and stay the course. If it’s too awkward to ignore the game completely, talk about an aspect of the event that has nothing to do with your kid or their mishaps. Compliment the other team, discuss another player, or tell a funny story about a parent.
If there has to be uncomfortable silence, roll with it. It’s a better option that an emotional rant. Silence is an undervalued tactic. Particularly when “effort” is the issue, silence can state everything that needs to be said.
2 Parts Compliment, 1 Part Constructive Criticism
When it’s time to talk, reference some positives prior to any negatives. The first two parts of this recipe (compliments) are not about coddling or looking through rose-colored glasses. They’re about effectiveness. If you need to deliver a message, work towards it rather than just impulsively blurting it out. Beginning with positive feedback gets the kid to lower their shield and listen. The positives can be the smallest of things, but they’re not hard to find. Here is an example.
Scenario: Your son has been swinging at a lot of high pitches and strikes out on a high pitch in his second at bat.
Delivery later that night: “You did a nice job in that first at bat laying off some pitches. Your stride was quiet and your hands were in good position. In the second at bat, I liked your aggressive approach, but remember, the ball has to be below your hands to swing. I know high pitches are tempting, but you’re doing the pitcher a favor. Force the pitcher to locate down in the strike zone, and you become a really tough out.”
Also, mix in conversations where there is no constructive criticism at all. Kids are smart and will start to recognize your pattern. You’ll start with the positives and they’ll be thinking, “Okay, here it comes.” Have conversations that point out a few things they did well, and then get out. Leave them hanging. It will set you up for keeping their attention in future conversations.
Good Cop, Bad Cop
Often, one parent plays more of a passenger role in the sports relationship while the other is more involved. The parent playing the more active role (the bad cop) is usually the one providing feedback and constructive criticism.
If the communication is suffering, pass the baton over to the good cop. You might find the kid is far more receptive to dialogue. The objective is to relay information and sometimes a different voice is needed.
When you’re the only parent (or if you’re both bad cops), you can also ask another parent to talk to your kid. It’s not only effective, but it can validate some of the points you’ve been making when it comes from another adult.
One final note – sometimes it’s best to just let it go. The parent/child relationship always supersedes the parent/child sports relationship. Sports are finite. Family relationships are for life. Be the adult and let it go.