Highland News Leader

Comfort, don’t criticize, when kids have a bad game

Q: My two kids enjoy sports and are pretty good athletes. But if they do have a bad game, I’m never sure what to say to encourage them afterward. I just don’t seem to have the right words or advice in the moment. Do you have any insights?

Jim: This is one of the real challenges of raising young athletes -- regardless of their skill level. What a lot of parents do is offer their child pointers for how they can do better next time. But kids aren’t looking for critiques of their pitching or reminders to grab those rebounds when the dust hasn’t had time to settle yet. Even well-intentioned remarks about “doing better next time” aren’t that helpful.

Once the sting wears off, your child will probably be open to your suggestions for how they can improve their game. But the car ride home usually isn’t the best time for a verbal highlight reel of their mistakes.

Try this. After the game, as they’re shuffling back to the car with their head hung low, put an arm around them and say, “I sure love watching you play.” That’s it. Those words will tell your child that you love and support them, even when they lose or don’t play very well.

That message -- that you love them and enjoy being with them, no matter how they perform -- is a key to reinforcing the relationship that goes far beyond sports. And it sets the tone for how you can help later. When they are finally ready to rehash the game, listen much more than you speak.

On a broader scale, a couple of years ago I was privileged to interview authors David King (a college athletic director) and Margot Starbuck (soccer mom and former athlete) about their book “Overplayed: A Parent’s Guide to Sanity in the World of Youth Sports.” It’s a faith-based resource that’s filled with helpful insights for any sports-loving family and might be worth checking out.

Q: My wife and I entered marriage three years ago with high hopes. We both thought we were well-prepared with plans for what we wanted our relationship to be. But so far we haven’t found the balance we desire. What can we do?

Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: I hear this sort of question a lot. In many cases, the problem may be one of extremes.

Probably the most significant influence for how we behave in our marriage comes from our upbringing. For example, people raised in a troubled home likely grew up with parents who constantly fought with one another. When that child becomes an adult, they may do everything they can to avoid interacting as their parents did -- like refusing to engage in conflict even if it means they never express their opinion in the relationship.

But there’s also a downside to growing up with a mom and dad who never allowed their conflict to be seen. Kids from these homes often feel their relationship has to be a carbon copy of their parents’. And when that first disagreement pops up in their marriage? They feel like failures and believe their marriage is doomed.

Allowing your expectations to swing to either extreme can kill your relationship. The best solution is to find healthy middle ground. In other words, don’t focus on running from the negativity of your past. But don’t waste all of your energy trying to re-create the good parts, either.

Every marriage is unique. You and your spouse need to find an identity for your relationship that best fits your personalities. It’s the only way to build a successful marriage.

For more insights into healthy relationships, see FocusOnTheFamily.com.

Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.comor at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.