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What to say to your athlete pre, post, and in between games to avoid “making them mad”

You have probably struggled answering the following question… What should I say to my kid after a game?

The answer is, it depends.

Here is the hallmark, safe, effective, go-to six word sentence that works every time:

“I really enjoy watching you play.”

Any more than that really depends on this question: What do you VALUE?

Let’s first start with what NOT to say:

“You should have…”

“I think…”

“You are normally so good at that…”

“It’s only one game…”

“Why didn’t you…”

“Why did you…”

Any of those will typically result in a quick end to the conversation and an eye roll.

Your compliments and critiques should reflect your values as a parent.

Do you value good sportsmanship? If so, don’t compliment your athlete for scoring goals after a game when you watched him push a kid down and get a yellow card.

Do you value effort over results? If so, I would compliment your athlete every single game that they give their best effort. And if they score 25 points but fail to play good defense because of laziness, be careful what you recognize and compliment after the game.

But HERE is where most sports parents mess up...

They don’t communicate their values early on, if ever.

Before you read any further, stop and ask yourself the following question, as a sports parent who wants their athlete to have joy and success in sports for a long time...

“What do I value most? What do I want my athlete to value?”


  • Effort over results?  
  • Putting others ahead of him or herself?  
  • Keeping a positive attitude even when things don’t go your way?  
  • Giving 100% even when you don’t feel like it?  
  • Good sportsmanship, kindness and consideration for the other team’s players?

Now, the true test, “Do my critiques and compliments reflect what I SAY I value?”

The best sports parents I have ever met are very intentional about this. And as a result, they have a great line of communication with their athlete before, after, and in between games.

The athlete knows where their parent stands because the parent stands for something.

Imagine if you didn’t have to walk on eggshells after your athlete had a bad game. Wondering, “should I say that? Should I give advice? Should I compliment him/her?”

Imagine what life would be like if there was no anger and frustration during pre and post game conversations.

Imagine the boost in confidence your athlete will experience when they truly know where you stand and hopefully where they stand to. They know what matters MOST.

Let’s say you value Effort Over Results. If you communicate this value early and often, your kid will not expect you to get all pumped up and over-the-top excited when he has a good game. A fist bump and a, “I’m proud of your effort” will suffice. And it will appropriately reflect your values.

Far too often I talk to parents who say they value this one, but they get over-the-top excited when their athlete has a great results-based game! It’s tempting when your athlete scores points, runs, gets hits, scores goals, etc.

So you ask yourself, “Andrew, is it REALLY not okay to do this? I want him/her to know I am excited for them!”

It’s fine, but are you applauding the effort or the result?

We need to communicate our sports values to our athletes. We need to tell them up front and straight up, THIS is what matters most to me. THIS is what I believe is most important.

If you do this, and you refer back to your list before, after, and in-between games, you will avoid the temptations of complimenting and critiquing habits and actions that are misaligned with what you say you truly value.

Be consistent in your communication and you will find your conversations with your athlete become better. They will know where you stand, and you will be teaching them a valuable, life-long lesson→ know what matters most, and let your habits and actions flow from those values.

Dedicated to improving the sports industry,

Coach Andrew

Andrew Simpson

Chief Vision Officer
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