I wheel the wagon over to the back of my car, completing the routine following an exhausting Sunday. Three buckets, two nets, tee, a cooler, and JJ’s bag get strategically positioned to fit like a game of Tetris.
What a weekend. What a day. We faced off against some of the best competition in the state, and we played great. After winning the first game, we held an 11-3 lead heading into what would be the final inning. We’d run out of gas. And JJ would be the final pitcher on the mound.
“Want a drink? Gatorade? Water? Snack?”
I hand JJ a Gatorade, and we take our seats in the car. I fire up the playlist that JJ created for rides to and from baseball, consisting primarily of new hip hop with cleaned-up lyrics (he’ll no longer listen to my “classic” stuff).
I scroll through MLB scores from the day to see how the Brewers, our favorite team, did, before starting up and maneuvering out of the busy parking lot.
“Brewers won, JJ!”
JJ asks me a long list of questions, the way a 10-year-old does, about the score, who pitched, and who hit home runs.
We agree on a lunch spot to refuel after a long day, and the GPS begins shouting corrections as I divert my path.
I worry about JJ. It was hard seeing him on the mound as the final run crossed. I was responsible for putting him there. I hope he’s okay.
“I was really proud of you today, Bud. I know that was a tough spot.”
“Thanks,” he smiles.
After that, the next hour is marked by mostly silence, interrupted by occasional small talk. Not uncomfortable silence. Comfortable.
The Ride Home
They say that the ride home following a game is one of the primary reasons for why young baseball players ultimately quit. It may not be scientific to loosely quote “they” here, but this bucket of time is undeniably crucial.
How will you handle it as a parent? As a coach? How will your approach impact your child’s perspective on playing the game?
The goal here isn’t to tell you how to parent. Everyone’s parenting style is different, as are the needs and personalities of our kids. Instead, it’s to help you step back and understand the importance of the ride home and how you can handle it most effectively.
The Ride Home: The Dangers
It’s been a long day. If you’re a parent who cheers on your child from the stands, you’ve had little contact with him during the past couple or several hours.
So much has happened. The good things. The bad things. You want to help him understand what he could have done differently.
Even if you’re the coach, you’ve only dedicated a fraction of your energy to your child during the past several hours. Now you can focus on him.
The danger is that you unload. You finally have the time to educate your child on all of the things you wanted to say during the past few hours.
Don’t do it.
The Ride Home: The Emotion
Baseball is an incredibly emotional game for all involved. When it’s win or go home, these emotions are amplified.
As a parent, you desperately want your child to succeed. Your emotions may be high related to how your child did or did not perform. Maybe you disagree with how the coach used your son. Maybe you’re upset with how teammates performed.
As the coach, only one team goes home truly satisfied. The odds are that you have some level of disappointment after the final game. Maybe you regret a decision you made. Or you’re frustrated with execution by the players. Or maybe emotion is high due to a rivalry, or umpiring, or parent drama.
Your child is dealing with his own complex emotions. Did he play well? Is he placing blame on himself for not executing? Youth players are often worried about not only performing well for their teammates, but pleasing their parents and coaches.
These emotions combine for a potentially destructive ride home. You can trap your child in a conversation for which he is not ready. It can lead to the erosion of his love for the game.
The Ride Home: Do This Instead
Avoid these types of phrases on the ride home:
- “You shouldn’t have…”
- “You should have…”
- “Why did you…”
Allow your child to drive the conversation. If he wants to talk about the game, that’s fine — though do so delicately.
Use follow-up questions like, “How did you feel about that?” as opposed to using this time to coach and correct. Help him navigate what happened.
Or maybe you won’t talk about baseball at all. Maybe it will be 30 minutes of silence. That’s okay, too.
If you’re the coach, consider physically removing your hat when you enter the car. You were the coach on the field, and now you’re Dad.
Corrections and Coaching Later
The point here isn’t to avoid discussing the details of the game with your child at all costs. It’s simply to choose that moment effectively. The ride home is unlikely to result in a productive conversation.
Allow your child to reflect and unwind first. And allow yourself to cool down as well.
Then, later, talk about…
- What he thought about the game(s)
- What he did well
- What he thinks he did well
- What he could have done differently and how
On the ride home, provide the support your child needs from his parent. When he’s ready, coach and correct.
What I Do
Admittedly, I’m writing this for myself, too. I’m not perfect.
My ride home with my son is usually quiet, but comfortable. I do my best to leave the emotion of the games behind me. I turn on his playlist, and we head home.
If I bring up the games at all, it would only be to make very broad, positive statements.
- “I was really proud of you today!”
- “That was a great game.”
- “How do you feel?”
The last one, of course, should be used delicately on the ride home, depending on the answer you expect to get.
I try to keep this conversation light. We cover the game at a surface level, if at all, but positively.
For us, the conversation usually shifts quickly to what we’re going to get to eat or how the Brewers (our favorite team) are doing. It’s not my time to coach or correct.
That will come later.
Are there any strategies you use for the ride home?
Let me know in the comments below!