The dos and don'ts of what to say on the car ride home from your child's sport game.

Confidence can be built or crushed in the time between leaving a sport game and arriving home.

Any parent of an aspirational athlete knows this – car rides home can yield the toughest of questions. “Why did I get benched?” to “Did I play bad?” and “Why does Charlotte always get to play Goal Attack?” can lead to fiery arguments, teary meltdowns, or even regretful explanations. Each can be equally damaging.

So, how should parents handle the tricky post-game chat with their kids? We asked sports psychologist Daniel Dymond from Melbourne’s The Performance and Sport Psychology Clinic to find out.

It turns out there are some do’s and don’ts every mum and dad should know. Here they are…

DO NOT give false encouragement

“The thing about the parent/child relationship is when you see your kid upset, down, or anxious, the first thing you want to do it remove their pain,” Dymond told me.

“When parents see a child upset about how they performed, sometimes they can say things that aren’t true that inflate their ego, but false encouragement creates a disconnect between performance and perception, which can be damaging down the line.”

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It’s better to acknowledge how your child is feeling in that moment, rather than cover their anxiety with baseless praise, Dymond said.

DO NOT tell your child to “stop feeling” angry or upset

Letting your child feel, and relating to them on that emotion, is an important part of creating connection, Dymond said.

“If a child is feeling pissed off, telling them not to feel that or trying to remove that pain is actually doing quite a lot of unhelpful things,” the sports psychologist explained. “Telling athletes they shouldn’t feel angry, sad or anxious creates a disconnect.”

Connection, Dymond believes, is fundamental when parents discuss sport and performance with their children.

“It’s all about sharing experience,” Dymond said. “Instead of telling your child not to feel anxious or angry, why don’t we share an experience? For example, parents could say they felt the same way when they were in a job interview, and felt their heart in their throat. If you can connect with your child in that way, they know you understand what they’re experiencing.”

 "It’s all about sharing experience." (Image: iStock)

DO be consistent with your feedback

"Make sure what you’re saying post match or post comp, is in line with what you were saying before," Dymond said.

"If you say 'I just want you to go out there, and focus on your processes,' and the kid wins but isn’t particularly happy with their performance, and you say something like 'It doesn't matter, you won!', you’re not being congruent with what you said before."

So, I asked, what should parents say instead?

It's pretty simple, Dymond explains: "You should say something like, 'I love that fact that even though you won, you’re not fully happy with how you did'."

Do you feel you say the wrong things on the car ride home from sports games?