My son's basketball team lost a game by a big margin last night. After the game, my son was upset and stormed out of the gym. He loves to win and gives it his all, but he does not typically get visibly mad about losing. I assumed that he was upset about one or more of the following; 1) his play while in the game, 2) his limited playing time, 3) getting pulled out of the game after being in for less than 10 seconds late in the last quarter or 4) missing a mixer (a school social party / dance) to play in the game.
In situations like this, my wife and I both know not to immediately talk to him about the game. It's just not productive. He always needs some time to think about and process the situation, else he will likely be irrational.
My wife and I took separate cars to the game. Nic decided to drive home with me after the game. We did not talk for the first 10 minutes of the drive home. After I was satisfied that he had some time to think, I asked him if he was more upset with missing the mixer or how he played (1 point, 1 rebound and 2 turnovers). It was a simple multiple choice question with two possible answers, but after 10 minutes of not talking he was ready to ramble on about both. Afterwards, I realized that he was bummed about missing the mixer, but upset about the game.
We drove in silence for a few minutes more. I asked him if his friends would be playing Xbox Live (Call of Duty) after they returned home from the mixer. He said yes. I asked him about his world ranking in Call of Duty - Black Ops. He explained with pride that he was ranked about 80,000th in the world. Millions play. He then explained that he could be ranked higher, but the zombie mode that he and his friends like to play does not contribute to the world rankings.
Once I was satisfied that he was thinking rationally, I turned the conversation back to the game. I asked him if he was upset about getting pulled from the game after just getting in. I knew that this was the pain point because I saw it on his face when it happened. He confirmed it. I helped him understand the coach's rationale for this move. This was the situation:
It was late in the game and our team was on the losing side of a close battle. Our point guard had 4 fouls on him, one more foul and he was out of the game. We had just scored a basket and the coach quickly subbed Nic in for the point guard. Nic is not a natural basketball player. He made the team because he is aggressive and quick. He made the team because of defense not offense. He coach inserted Nic into the game to defend the inbound pass and hopefully to get a steal or to foul the player who received the pass. Nic quickly fouled the player to stop the clock and force the 1 and 1. After the foul, he was pulled from the game and the point guard was re-inserted. I explained to Nic that his strength is defense. If the team was winning, he would be in the game. Our point guard's strength is offense. The coach was smartly subbing the best players in for the rapidly changing situation. Once Nic understood the situation he felt better about it.
Then I started talking about the things that he did well during the game and also gave him some advice to use his speed more on offense to create opportunities.
How to Talk To Young Athletes After a Bad Game
1) Assess the situation. Do you really need to talk about the bad game at all? Is it a teaching / learning moment? If not, do not even bring up the subject. Just down play it.
2) If it is a teaching / learning moment. Do not talk about it immediately. Let your young athlete think about it first. Say I understand you are upset about the game, lets talk about it after you have a chance to relax a little.
3) At first, ask yes / no or simple multiple choice questions. If your athlete is ready to talk they will open up. If not, they will give you a short answer. No need to push it until they are ready.
4) Listen first. Try to understand the real issue. Kids often mask the real issues by complaining about an umpire, a coach, a teammate or a phantom injury. Ask lots of qualifying questions.
5) Once you have all the input, explain the situation while highlighting your young athlete's strengths. Try to be supportive of the coaches and the refs. If your kid blames him / herself for a loss emphasize the team aspect of the game.
The Main Point
Bad games can be great learning / teaching opportunities.