The ride home after a soccer loss can be the most painful moment in a young player’s weekend.
In fact, for many players those dreaded drives are the worst part of their entire soccer experience. That’s a big problem, especially when you realize that over 70% of youth players in the United States quit organized sports before the age of 13.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. With some intentionality and restraint, parents can use the ride home to help players decompress, recover and reflect.
Here are a few tips to transform The Ride Home into a positive experience for everyone, and in the process help turn the tide of hyper-competitiveness in American youth sports.
Let your child lead the conversation
Your player should decide when (and if) the conversation begins — and, just as importantly, where it ends. They might want to sit in silence, or control the aux cord and blast music. They might want to talk about food, or funny shapes in clouds, or anything except soccer. You should let them. Like everyone else, young soccer players need time and space to digest their thoughts and emotions.
If your player does want to talk about the game, you should engage with them. But it’s important to remember that this isn’t a time for criticism — with emotions fresh and tempers often running high (for parents and players both), this is the least teachable moment.
That means players don’t want to talk about their mistakes, or their teammates’ mistakes. Your role is to encourage positive reflection on their performance and the team’s performance, and to help players see the big picture. Use guided questions that lead them to positive answers about how they are growing and developing with their team. Some examples:
- What did you do well today?
- What did your team do well today?
- What was your favorite moment of the game?
- What did you learn today?
- What is something you think the team can practice this week to improve?
Demonstrate a growth mindset
In youth sports, we have an unfortunate tendency to fixate on individual results and performances instead of the big picture. Missing out on a W and three points doesn’t mean that the entire weekend should be defined by (or as) a loss.
Look for the small successes to celebrate. Did your player finally dribble at a defender instead of passing backward — even if they lost the ball? Did the team connect ten passes for the first time ever? Help your player step away from the result of the game, and recognize how their hard work is paying off.
Because even in tough games, there will be positive moments. Discussing these moments, and later adding those positive moments to your child’s Trace iD, can help young players see that improving may be a gradual process, but that they are in fact getting better each time they play. You might also create a separate Trace iD playlist for ‘areas of improvement’ so that a player can put those moments into a folder and then strategize in the coming weeks about how to overcome those obstacles.
Using a video solution like Trace also removes the urgency parents and players often feel during the car ride home. Knowing that you can later rewatch and learn from the game means you can take a step back in the moment, and revisit later with fresh eyes and less emotion.
Avoid talking about coaching decisions
Even if you don’t like how your player’s coach managed the game, your child isn’t an appropriate audience for those questions and concerns. Expressing frustration will only cause confusion and uncertainty for your player, and will effectively undermine the coach’s authority.
It can also negatively impact team chemistry. Usually, if a parent disagrees with how a game was coached, it’s because they have an issue with playing time or positions. Expressing or suggesting that to your player can easily start a “blame game” that erodes trust in the team and starts a pattern of finger-pointing that is very difficult to stop.
This applies to criticizing referees as well. Don’t allow your player to start a habit of finding excuses or blaming officials. If the team earns their wins, then they earn their losses too.
Reflect on your own reactions
Children are incredibly perceptive and intuitive. They learn from you, and how you behave on the ride home. If you are negative and hypercritical, they will become more negative and hypercritical of themselves. And if you keep things positive and light, they will learn how to process and grow from their disappointment and anger.
This takes some self-reflection on your part. How does your behavior on the ride home change based on if the team won, tied or lost? How is your body language different? Are you setting an example of good sportsmanship, or are you (intentionally or not) teaching your player that the result of the game is all that matters?
Remind your child what’s really important
In the end, what matters most is having fun. We want players to enjoy soccer, no matter what. Encourage your child to find one or two things that they really, truly enjoyed in the game — a goal, a slide tackle, a beautiful pass. All of these moments deserve to be remembered and celebrated.
You should also make a point of reminding your child of what’s important to you, and why you take the time to be at their games. Too often, players believe that their parents are there to watch them win, or that their value is tied to the result of the game. It’s your job to take that pressure away, with a simple reminder that, win or lose, “I love to watch you play soccer.”
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