You might be your child’s biggest fan, but are you his/her best fan?  Chances are, your perspective on this is a little less than objective.  When hundreds of college athletes were asked what’s your worst memory from youth sports, the overwhelming reply was “the ride home with my parents.”  Many parents see the post-game car ride as an opportunity to offer criticism, tips, and second guess the various decisions their player made throughout the game, but this is a clear recipe for disaster.  Here are some tips for becoming your child’s #1 fan:

Don’t be the coach (unless you are actually the coach): Post-game criticism and well-meaning suggestions on the ride home can be tedious win or lose, particularly if the coach already de-briefed the team on what they did well and not so well.  Athletes overwhelmingly agree that the single best thing you can say to them after a game is “I love to watch you play.”  Your job is to provide unconditional support.  Grandparents seem to have a particularly easy time handing out genuine atta-boys, so take your cues from Grandpa.

Encourage your child to compete against him/herself rather than teammates or opponents:  Judging improvement by winning or losing isn’t fair or accurate.  Young athletes should be striving for continual improvement—swimming faster, making better passes, and correcting mistakes from week to week, not necessarily coming in first place or winning the game.  

Don’t Define Success in Terms of Winning:  Youth sports are all about skill development.  The scoreboard doesn’t necessarily reflect a victory or loss in these terms.  When your child and/or his team plays up to their potential and loses, it’s critical to focus on the performance, not the loss.  There is a difference between winning/losing and success/failure.  Make sure both you and your child understand the distinction.

Let Go:  Sports is one of the few environments where parents can be hands off.  The playing field is a great place for kids to take risks, try something new, and deal with the resulting failure or success because consequences aren’t life threatening nor are they permanent.  Good or bad, the outcome won’t require a rescue from mom or dad.  By letting go, parents allow all of the successes or failures to be their child’s alone.

Keep your emotions in check at game time:  Making grand demonstrations of displeasure over a referee’s “bad” call or when things aren’t going your team’s way is bad sportsmanship and sends the wrong message to your child. Be encouraging and positive.

Ask your child what he or she wants:  Some kids like to hear encouraging shouts from stands, but others would rather not to hear mom or dad at all.  Find out what your child prefers and honor his/her wishes as best you can.

Don’t treat your child differently after a win or a loss:  Their value is not contingent on the final outcome of the game.   Be careful that your behavior doesn’t tell a different story.