Don’t let your kid get
stuck in the mud.
How to support your children when they’re at the bottom of their game
Nine goals in the first half of the soccer game. What a dismal
showing at goalie. My heart sank, my pride was battered, my
confidence was shot. And I had it easy. I was in the stands. My
9-year-old son, Jack, was the one in the goal.
Thankfully, Jack is emerging from a rough start on a new
indoor soccer team, and I’ve learned a few strategies to help
both of us navigate any future athletic slump. “It’s hard for
dads, because the tendency is to try to be a good parent and
a good coach,” says Patrick Cohn, PhD, a sports-psychology
expert who works extensively with young athletes and their
parents. “But kids don’t separate those roles, and that leads
to frustration. You really want to be in the role of parent and
cheerleader, and leave the coaching to the coach.”
One way to do that, says Cohn, is to accentuate the positive.
At Jack’s last game, I tallied up the good stuff: 12 blocked shots
and a vastly improved throw-in style. After the game, I unloaded
the accolades and he immediately brightened. “I thought some
of those blocks were pretty awesome,” he said, grinning. “Let’s
just forget about the others for now.” Which, as it turns out, is
one of Cohn’s three suggestions. T . EDWARD NICKENS
Before the Game
Don’t relive past mistakes.
Instead, help your child focus
on a couple of minor, low-tech
skills he or she can master in
the upcoming match. Maybe
it’s keeping between the ball
and the goal at a soccer game,
or trying to get in one more
stroke before the wall touch at
a swimming meet. “You want
to give your child a few simple
things to work on that will pay
off positively,” says Cohn.
During the Game
Remember that you are
the parent, not the coach.
Avoid grimaces and negative
emotions, and never turn your
face away from your child’s
blown play. “It’s difficult for
parents to be stoic, but your
job is to remain positive and
exude encouragement,” says
Cohn. He suggests a couple
of loud claps or a hearty
go!”—and be done with it.
After the Game
The ride home, says Cohn,
is often the most difficult
time to wrestle with a poor
performance. His advice?
Don’t. “Focus on a few
positive aspects of your child’s
performance, and then institute
a cooldown period before
rehashing the game,” he says.
Whether it’s an hour or a day,
wait until emotions wane to
talk about a less-than-stellar
showing on the field. When
you do, point the discussion
toward the ways your child
can positively impact any
“Ask your child, ‘What do
you think you need to do to
get better?’” says Cohn. “Be
specific. What skills can he or
she work on before the next
game? Footwork? Accuracy?”
It’s important to jump-start
the process of improvement
now, rather than wallow in
OF THE DAD
Tip No. 52
GIVE YOUR KIDS A GREEN THUMB
Planting a tree isn’t just about saving the planet, it can also save
you money: The American Public Power Association has found that
planting trees to shade a home can reduce air-conditioning costs by
up to 50 percent. Find out which tree will thrive best in your climate at
arborday.org, and then plant one using this three-step guide, provided by
John Englert of the USDA National Resources Conservation Service.
1. Dig a hole that’s at least two times the
diameter of the container your tree is in,
and one inch less deep. Most roots grow
out, not down, and this will allow the
roots to breathe.
2. Remove the tree from the container
and place it in the hole. Begin filling the
hole with the soil you dug out, adding
peat moss or composted leaves if the soil
is sandy. This will aerate the soil and help
the roots retain water and nutrients.
3. Cover a three-foot diameter at the base
of the tree with three to four inches of
mulch. Soak the soil around the tree roots
with water, and repeat every t wo weeks
throughout the first growing season (or
as needed, depending on rainfall).
(FROM TOP) ALEX TELFER/
GALLER Y S TOCK; GE T T Y IMAGES
Shade is on the way!