The Ride Home After the Game Does it Make Youth Baseball & Softball More Fun?
By Catherine Pearlman, Ph.D., LCSW
SIDE BAR: During a rehabilitation assignment in June of 2006, Roger Clemens and his son Koby were teammates on the Houston Astros A-Ball affiliate Lexington Legends. Roger pitched and Koby played third base. The next day, reporters asked Koby what was the best part of the game. He said – “The ride home. I got to tell him what he did wrong.”
Many children say that the ride home is their worst memory of youth baseball and softball. They are physically and emotionally exhausted, as are mom and/or dad, and yet many parents choose to make this a teachable moment. Sports psychologists tell us this is often the least teachable moment. Parent intentions are often great, but their timing can be terrible.
Sometimes, parents offer friendly tips that are meant to be helpful. Sometimes, it’s more commanding advice, like “Swing with more power” or “Pay more attention to the ball.” Sometimes, parents ask so many questions that they exhaust their children (who are already tired from the game).
Authorities in child psychology say that children hate questions and constructive criticism. Many young athletes start to dread the car ride home because they know they are held captive with nowhere to exit. For some, the analysis of the game and the helpful hints can suck the fun out of the game. As a parent, it’s hard not to share what you see from the sidelines. Many parents are just trying to connect with their children. But, more often than not, it’s not working.
Sports psychologists believe that there is an easy fix. Greet your player when the game is over in one of two ways, and it will improve the way your child feels about being on the team.
Option 1: “I love to watch your play.”
Option 2: “Where should we go for ice cream?”
By telling a child how much you enjoy seeing their effort, win or lose, parents are conveying support and reinforcing the joy of the game. So many young players immediately look into the stands to see a parent’s reaction to a hit or a great defensive play. They want and need positive affirmation from their parents. So, give it to them. This also goes for those parents glued to their phones on the sidelines. Look up! You want to be there to catch their eye.
The more you focus on the joy of watching them, not winning, not technique, not strategy, the more they will enjoy playing, and the more likely they will improve.
Now, ice cream after a game isn’t always necessary. But, win or lose, it sure is nice.
Bottom line: Consider your child’s emotional state before you decide to teach/critique.