Avoiding a Hostile Ride Home with your Athlete

In sports, there are all kinds of moments that can define a player’s career. It could be hitting a home run, making a game-winning basket, or scoring a goal in extra time. For a majority of young athletes in America though, their sports career-defining moment is usually on the car ride home.  

Unfortunately for 70 percent of young athletes in the U.S., they will quit organized sports completely— before they turn 13. No matter how you look at it, that number is depressing to think about.

Youth sports are supposed to be a fun outlet for kids across the country to meet new friends, relieve stress, exercise, and learn about different sports. The sad reality is that youth sports have undergone a hyper-competitive metamorphosis, and it’s no longer become fun for a lot of kids.

The biggest culprit in these situations? The parents.

The car ride home has become a hot-button topic when talking about youth athletics, because that’s often the time parents use to criticise their child’s performance at practice or a game.

The Ideal Ride Home

“An ideal car ride is to get in the car, whether you’ve watched a game or practice, and the first thing you should always say is, ‘Did you have fun out there?’ The second, ‘Did you try your best and were you a good person out there?’’ says Charlie Slagle, who coached soccer for 21 years at Davidson College.

Slagle hits on a very important piece of advice during the short video, where he tells parents that the car ride home from their sporting events can still be reflective, but that can be done in a much more positive way.

“If you’re saying, ‘Oh, if so-and-so were this much better,’ or ,’The coach is putting somebody in,’ or doing things like that, all of the positive things that maybe the coach has done– if the coach has done positive things– are now tainted because the parents are trying to figure out why their kid isn’t out there,” Slagle says.

That is a conversation many young athletes can relate to having with a parent at some point, not just limited to the car ride home. Slagle makes an important point here, too. The parent, in their charged conversation, can be undoing hours of work a coach put in to their child, instilling values of sportsmanship and camaraderie between the members of his team.

“If the parents start pushing themselves on them, and saying, ‘Oh you should have won this game because of this or that,’ or, ‘Joey should have done that.’ Well, Joey is this kid’s good friend,” Slagle says.

This puts the child involved in a predicament. Do they side with their parents, who are on an angry rant, or do they stick up for their friend, who plays on their sports team? A majority of the time, the child stays silent, and internalizes the conflict, causing them even greater amounts of stress.

“Let that go,” Slagle says. “Did you have a good time? Did you have fun out there? Did you make a positive influence out there? That’s what parents can do during the ride home.”

For most young athletes, the ride home isn’t the only time they are subjected to this sort of negativity from their parents. Colt McCoy, former NFL quarterback and Texas football legend, says he grew up seeing this kind of behavior from parents of teammates and other athletes.

Separating Sports Life from Home Life

“My dad was the athletic director and head football coach, and obviously he had great relationships with other coaches, parents, I mean he dealt with the parent aspect forever, being the athletic director, he gets it from all sports,” McCoy said.

“I think the one thing that my dad did a good job of, was whether he was coaching my teams or not, he was able to seperate being coach and then coming home and being dad,” McCoy said. “I think that is really important for parents, whether they coach the team or not. Being respectful of the coach and what they teach your kid, know that they’re trying and want to win and want to be successful.”

As McCoy says– the distinction between coaching and parenting needs to be apparent. Parenting and coaching require two completely different kinds of tones, mindsets, and approaches.

It is important to leave your coaching hat at the field– if it is even necessary for you to put that hat on at all. If you aren’t the coach of your child’s team: let the coaches do their jobs.

“It’s another thing if you’re criticising your son for not hitting a homerun or not making a game-winning shot, or you’re disciplining him for things that are really out of his control. I think that’s where you cross the line,” McCoy said, “One of the things my dad did a good job of was, being a coach and when we’re home sitting around the dinner table, he was my dad. There wasn’t ever conflict between the two. If parents can do that I think they’re on the right track.”

How Parents Should Handle Youth Sports

So what should parents strive for when taking their kids to and from their sports outings?

“My only advice for little league parents is to just keep encouraging your kids to have fun. I think it’s the number one thing with youth sports,” said Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens, “You’re not necessarily always going to find passion just by having success, I think it’s by enjoying being out there, enjoying learning about the game, enjoying growing and getting better. Maybe it’s seeing baby steps or giant leaps, depending on how good your child is.”

“The way I approach baseball games from my perspective as a parent is that I get a chance to sit out in the sun for an hour and a half, watching my son run around. To me, that’s what youth sports is all about,” Stevens said.

This is a thought process that other coaches have regarding their kids as well, including Minnesota women’s hockey coach Brad Frost.

“My philosophy is to play multiple sports, and as parents, is to just sit back and being okay with your child not making a triple-A team,” Frost said. “With my own experience, my sons are b-players, c-players, and they still have the time of their lives. I have no illusions that they’re going to get a scholarship or anything like that.”

“That’s okay– as a parent it allows me just to enjoy watching them play. Sit up in the stands, relax, and just know they’re having a great time,” Frost said. “And when they get back in the car, just to take them home and enjoy my time with them.”

The “Ride Home” and parents harping on their child about sports off the field, is causing more and more kids in America to quit youth sports.

By doing so, they are missing out on years of potential friendships, athletic development, and most of all: fun.

“I just think to many kids are getting out of sports because of the car ride home. Their dad or their mom is saying,’ Why didn’t you do this, why didn’t you do that,’ putting more pressure on their children, and making it even worse,” said Frost.


Featured Image of this Post: Photo by Arthur Edelman on Unsplash