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How To Handle Losing: Five Tips For A Successful Post-Game Talk
Young athletes can be surprisingly tough some times. As tough as they may seem, dealing with losing is still hard, and can be painful for young players. As parents, it is important for us to understand how to handle losing, and a post-game talk is a great way to work through a tough loss. On the post-game car ride, I have either a "win talk" or a "loss talk" with my son. Both begin the same way with one simple question: Did you have fun? The answer is always yes, sometimes it is an uncertain yes, but it has never been an outright 'no'. You will likely find that even after the hardest loss, a young athlete with a true love for the game he or she plays will tell you they had fun playing. And by asking this question, even after a tough loss, I have set the tone of the conversation to be a positive one.
Our "loss talk" does not go in to an in-depth analysis of the game that was just played. That analysis is best done by the coaches and the findings converted in to learning tools to be used at practice. For parents and young athletes, breaking the game down play by play after a loss serves no purpose, lest you enjoy lemon juice and paper cuts. Instead, talk about the best thing that happened during the game. Talk about all the great hits, highlight reel catches, and head's up plays. Steer the conversation away from what could have been toward what can be.
Do you talk about losing with your young athlete?
Around The Horn
The "loss talk" can be a difficult one. Not all young athletes handle losing the same way and you as a parent need to pick the right moment to initiate the conversation. For us, it is when we start driving out of the parking lot. For you and your athlete it may be a few days later. Here are a few tips to help guide you through the conversation and help you keep your young athlete upbeat and ready to play:
- Reinforce Positives - You will want to bring up all of the positives from the game or tournament to set the tone of the conversation. What went well? Point out good plays, or good at-bats. Ask your player(s) what he or she thought went well. What did they like about the game? Perhaps most important, especially with young athletes, ask if they had fun playing in the game.
- Avoid Speculating - "If I had only been able to get to that ball" was a response from my son when asked about a recent loss. My response to him was, "It was a solid hit, it was going in to the outfield up the gap, it happens." He understood, without being told, that there was no way he could have reached the hard line drive that split the gap between his position at 3rd base and the shortstop. Athletes that focus on the what if's after a loss have a hard time moving on to the next game. Changing one play does not always change the outcome of a game. What if Bill Buckner caught that ball? While we all know the answer, it does us no good to dwell on what could have been.
- Don't Minimize - There is a tendency with parents to put a value level on a game when their child's team loses. In select or travel baseball, you might play league games and tournament games. League games are often thought of as less important that tournaments, especially if the final result of a league game has your team on the losing side. Treat every game experience as equal, all wins and all losses have the same weight. By telling your young athlete that one game is more important than another you are telling them they don't have to do their best in the unimportant game. (One of my favorite professional football coaches will tell you that his team plays 16 one-game seasons every fall.)
- Getting Better - It is easy for parents and coaches to spout off ways for a player or team to improve, especially after a loss. The best advice and analysis of the situation, though, will come from the player on the field. This holds true for professional athletes and it holds true for our young amateurs. It is important for us to ask our young player's opinion. Ask what can be done to improve for the next game. Be careful not to speculate about what could have been done differently in the game they just played. Focus on actionable items for the next time out.
- Game Plan - When the game you have just played is over, you can look to the next one. Encourage your young athlete to learn from the past and move on to the future. You can take everything you have just gleaned from the "loss talk" and put it in to a game plan for the next time out. This will help encourage a positive attitude and reinforce your athlete's love of the game. As a parent, I always let my son know that I am proud of the way he plays, win or lose, and that my expectation is that he plays hard and has fun, nothing more.
Back In The Lineup
After a tough loss, our instinct is to console and sometimes coddle. While there is nothing wrong with doing what you feel is important to comfort your young athlete, it is important that you do what is necessary to keep their confidence and game spirit up. Young athletes develop a love for the sport they play. By talking through a loss, and getting them to talk about the game, it helps them deal with the emotions of losing and can help them retain that love for the game. I know with my son, and my daughter who is now playing ball, there is nothing they would rather be doing, win or lose. As parents, we need to help them keep that enthusiasm for their sport of choice, and talking with them after a tough loss lets them know that what is important to them is also important to you.