8 Tips for Managing the Car Ride Home After a “Bad” Meet

drive home

If your child competes long enough in any sport, it’s going to happen.

The dreaded bad meet or game.

It may range from mild displeasure to major disappointment, but at some point you child will fall, strike out, not qualify, be benched, miss the penalty kick or whatever that leads to major post-competition blues.

These moments are hard on kids, but they are also hard on the adults that love them.

Sure there are monster sports parents who will scream at their child or give them the silent treatment. But most parents, hard wired to respond when we see our offspring in distress, just want to make it all better for our children.   Off to the car we go with the best of intentions trying to cheer up our disappointed kids, minimize their upset, offer advice and adages like: “look on the bright side” or “tomorrow is another game.” We might share our own sports experiences or remind them of the difficult times of a favorite athlete. (“Remember, Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team!”).   Or we start to strategize for them how they might do better next time.

STOP! Cars are captive spaces. Our kids are stuck in this space while we lecture and sermonize at them. They are upset, tired and hungry. We are anxious and trying our best to respond to our evolutionary instinct of rescuing our offspring.

It doesn’t take a storm chaser to see the perfect tornado brewing on this horizon!

So, here are eight tips to manage the car ride home:

  1. Do not offer any critique of the meet, whatsoever. At best it irritates the child but is more likely to place them on the defensive or lead them to believe you are disappointed in them.
  1. Focus on child’s needs. Are you hungry? Do you want to get a Gatorade before we head out? Would you like to go out to dinner or would your rather eat at home? Don’t dwell, repeating questions over and over. Just ask, accept the answer and move on.
  1. Let child dictate what happens in the car. Flip the radio to their favorite station or ask them if they want to plug in their iPod. If they want to text or just plug into their headphones, consider letting them do that for a little bit at least.
  1. If your child wants to rehash the meet, let her be the one to do the talking. Go into therapist mode here. Phrases like “Tell me more about that,” “I wonder why that is?” “What do you think?” “How did that make you feel?” and “Uh Hmmm…” are very useful. Remember: we have two ears and only one mouth for a reason.
  1. If she needs to vent, allow her to do so without offering solutions or ultimatums. This isn’t the time. You can circle back to comments at a later time when she isn’t so upset. You don’t need to agree or disagree—be Switzerland here. Even if you have the perfect solution, this is not the time to share it. Maybe later that night or the next day you can say “I was thinking about what you told me about the meet and I have some ideas. Would you like to hear them?” Or, if she said something you think was off-base or unfair, you can share it at a later time. Emotional people don’t respond to ration anyway.
  1. This is not the time to process your feelings. You get to have feelings. Just don’t process them right now. Or with her ever.   Your feelings about your child’s sports failures never get processed with you child. That’s what spouses, siblings, best friends or therapists are for.
  1. If you feel she’s just cycling back through the same upset, gently seek to change the subject to something non-gymnastics related. You don’t have to listen to an on-going rant either. Let her vent a bit and then shut it down for a while. Try to do so indirectly, but if needed be direct: “I know you are upset and I am glad you are talking about it but let’s rest the topic for awhile until we’ve both had some food and rest.”
  1. Remind her that you are proud of her for getting out there and trying. It’s not the time for a long pep talk as she will receive it as a lecture. But a sound bite like “You know I am always proud of your efforts and I love you.” is always a good call, even when it is met with eye rolling.

The car ride home can be a stressful event after an already stressful day for athlete and parent alike.  I hope these tips alleviate some of that pressure and allow you and your child the time and space to process the disappointment in a healthy way.  After all, there is no success without failure but there is no learning without reflecting on what worked and what didn’t in the past.