The Car Ride Home

By Dr. Patrick Cohn

Coach Brian Gardner of St. Louis, Miss. has coached ice hockey for 10 years and even led one team of 11- to 12-year-olds to a national championship.

Some of Gardner’s players’ parents drive for as long as 1.5 hours to get their kids to the ice rink. That’s a long time for parents to be alone with their kids after a game, says Gardner. Especially if they spend that time talking about the players’ performance.

“A lot of times, parents think more about their kids’ success than the whole team,” says Gardner. The result: They give too much instruction, which can undo Coach Gardner’s lessons and coaching system.

“At the least harmful level, the parents second-guess some of the systems we put in place, such as a power play system. They say ‘You should do this, not what Coach says,’” Gardner relates.

On a more harmful level, parents tell their kids that they played badly. Out of frustration, parents sometimes even suggest to kids they should consider giving up the sport.

This behavior, while well-meaning, is counter-productive to Coach Gardner’s efforts and not helpful for the players, he says.

What exactly is the best way to talk to a young athlete after a game?

First of all, it’s critical to support the coach. You’ll only confuse your child by disagreeing with the coach or offering counterproductive coaching.

Second, you need to encourage your child as often as possible. Even if your athlete’s team lost, you can find something positive to say about his or her attitude, effort or about two or three positive plays. As a sports parent, your goal is to build your child’s confidence—not tear it down.

During the car ride home, you should avoid discussions about what your child did wrong in the game. Young athletes know what they did wrong in a game and don’t need to dwell on it during the car ride home.

Let your athletes cool off after the game for 30 minutes to one hour before jumping in to discuss their performance. Let your child initiate the conversation rather than bringing up the missed pass that cost their team the win. Be as positive as possible.

Award winning parenting writer Lisa Cohn and Youth Sports Psychology expert Dr. Patrick Cohn are co-founders of The Ultimate Sports Parent. Pick up their free e-book, “Ten Tips to Improve Confidence and Success in Young Athletes” by visiting

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