Easy and Effective Ways to Encourage Your Young Athlete

Spring and summer are all about baseball in my house. Then just when baseball is winding down, soccer starts up in earnest. Between my two sons, it sometimes seems as though most of my time is spent on a field. Or traveling to one.

If your children enjoy sports, it’s near certain you’ll be spending a lot of time in the car together traveling to games, tournaments or meets.

It’s hard to know what best to do with this family time. On the way there, it’s been my experience that the athlete tends to be anxious and doesn’t necessarily want to talk about specific strategy or plays. After the game is even tougher. Often we as parents want to rehash the game or even let our child know what he or she might have done wrong. Such an urge may be in the interest of helping our children become better players, but it’s the last thing they want to hear. This is one issue on which professional athletes seem to be in complete agreement. In interview after interview, professional athletes have said that all they wanted to hear from their parents after games was, “I loved watching you play.” A couple of years ago, my older son’s coach took an even briefer approach, instructing us that the only thing we should say to our boys right after the game was, “Where do you want to eat?”

I think both pieces of advice are helpful. We should tell our kids we loved watching them play and then give them a break from game talk for a while, especially if the game ended in a loss or was otherwise disappointing. But after such a break, when we’re all back in the car together to head home, we can use that time to support and encourage our young athletes.

The best suggestion I’ve ever heard for what to do with that driving time, from Susie Walton, the mom of former Lakers player and Lakers coach Luke Walton, was to do affirmations. If you have other players in the car, have them affirm each other. “I like it when you … on the field/court/floor.” It’s a great way for players to build each other’s confidence. On the way to the game, ask them to use examples from practice and on the way home, examples from the game they just played.

If it’s just your children in the car, everyone can affirm the player who is getting ready to play or who has just played. It’s a great exercise for my boys to think of ways to compliment each other, and I hope they treasure the compliments they receive.

And don’t stop with the player. If we are affirming our older son on the way home from one of his games, our younger son will pipe up with a “Hey, what about me?” And he’s right. Each person in the family should take a turn being affirmed. Sometimes it’s easier for my boys to compliment each other in a very specific format and when it’s about sports, but it’s not necessary of course to focus on sports alone. Very young children can take part in this, too. Affirmation is a great habit to cultivate, and I personally love hearing the surprising compliments that sometimes emerge from the youngest members of the family. For example, “You’re a great builder of Star Wars bases.”

We’ll be on the road early tomorrow morning to get to my older son’s game, and again in the afternoon to drive to my younger son’s game. I do love watching them play, and I’ll remind them of that. But I’m already looking forward to hearing what they have to say about each other’s efforts. 

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:11

A version of this post first appeared on www.1corinthians13parenting.com.

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