Why kids hate the ride home from sports and how you can make it better

For many kids, the ride home with their parents from the rink, diamond or gym is the worst part of their sports experience. But it doesn't have to be.

New ad campaign aims to change parents' behaviour

An overbearing parent can turn the trip home from a sporting activity into an unpleasant experience. (True Sport)

The video is difficult to watch.

A young boy and his father get into the car after what appears to be a soccer practice. The conversation is one sided. The little boy in the back seat says nothing during the entire 90-second spot.

"It seems like you want to hang out with your friends more than practice," the father says with contempt.

"Maybe we can skip your next game," he continues. "Because wasting your time is one thing. Wasting my time and your coach's time… that's selfish. You don't care about other people. You don't care about hard work, you don't care about teamwork. Maybe that's why you're always on the bench every time it matters."

Sound familiar?

It's a scene that plays out in thousands of cars across Canada every night: the ride home from the rink, diamond or gym.

And for many children, it's the most unpleasant part of their sports experience.

"I would be one of the classic parents — you know, [the kids] hop in the car at the end of a game and they didn't know they should be miserable until I told them," says Michael Langlois, a sports consultant who has worked with amateur and pro coaches and teams. "I regret that as a dad. But I think it's something a lot of us need to acknowledge. The car ride home shouldn't be miserable for kids."

Olympic parents offer tips

The Ride Home campaign, recently launched by the True Sport initiative, a Canadian charity, aims to change parental behaviour.

The reason behind the campaign is simple: according to True Sport, 70 per cent of Canadian children are quitting sports before they get to high school. The No. 1 reason? Sports simply aren't fun anymore.

To make the point, True Sport asked the parents of some of Canada's most successful athletes for advice.

For Ken and Arlene Olynyk, there were thousands of drives home. All three of their children have achieved a high level of athletic success — including their son Kelly, who plays for the NBA's Boston Celtics.

"We did not allow them to tell us they played bad or that they lost the game," Alrene Olynyk says. "For the most part they would get into the car, slump down and say, 'I was terrible.' And then we would ask them to talk about it and then break down the game. So the conversation was the same whether they won or lost."

Arlene says that, years later, her children came to appreciate the approach.

"You guys never made losing a negative thing," Arlene says one of her kids recently told her. "It was always about learning and growing and developing and getting more out of the game than face value. Just letting us talk and helping us realize the strengths and weaknesses in our game."

Rosemary Brydon had the same approach, win or lose, with her daughter Emily, a three-time Olympian as a skier.

"It was really important to not talk about it until she opened up the conversation," Rosemary remembers. "We never asked her. If it was a bad result, we'd steer clear, she would find us when she was ready. They have to absorb what happened and how they are going to cope with it."

"After a race, Emily came up to us and said, 'I'm really glad that you are my parents.' And we went, 'Why?' And she said, 'You don't care if I win or lose.' That's my favourite story."

Unique opportunity

The car ride home offers parents a unique time to communicate with their children.

"You are inside of this capsule where you are stuck for a period of time, so I think it's an excellent opportunity for you as a parent to ask some questions in a gentle way about how things went," says Dr. Penny Werthner, a former Olympian who has spent 30 years studying sport and psychology.

"That opens up the door for them to start the conversation and tell you as a parent what they are feeling, what they are frustrated about, what they are thinking. That provides you with an opportunity to then come back and start giving some direction."

It's good advice for any parent — not just for the father featured in the True Sport spot.

The campaign's video ends with the dad telling his son, "You need to take a good hard look at yourself." The scene fades but the words remain.

It's clear who the message is intended for.


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