PrepWell Podcast


Ep. 179 | How To Give Feedback To Your Child

How to give feedback to your child, particularly after a sporting event.

Show Notes:

In this episode, I discuss how to give feedback to your child - specifically after a sporting event. 

  1. Is there a right or wrong way?
  2. What are the pitfalls?
  3. Should you give any feedback at all?
  4. What is your child listening for?

I offer 5 Guiding Principles to consider when thinking about whether or not to offer feedback to your child.

The episode should be helpful even if your child does not play sports. The principles translate well for many different parts of a child's life (e.g. music, theater, robotics, etc.)

Show Transcript:

[00:00:25] Hello friends, and welcome back to the PrepWell Podcast. in today's episode, I want to discuss strategies for giving feedback to our children, and I know that's a pretty broad topic and this discussion could go in a lot of different directions. Are we talking about feedback on behavior or schoolwork or sports performance or social skills? The list goes on and on. In order to keep this episode at a reasonable length and scope, I'm going to focus on athletic feedback. What athletic feedback, if any, should we consider giving our children? This is an area where I have the most personal experience. I think a lot of you out there have children who play sports, and even if you don't, I think the guiding principles translate well into other aspects of our child's lives, even outside of sports. So I'm hoping that this episode will be helpful for parents with and without kids engaged in sports, in my experience. One moment that we all share, where we have the opportunity to give feedback to our children is on the car ride home after a game or a match or a race. And I'm sure we can all acknowledge how much more fun and light and upbeat the mood is in the car after a big win. Or after our child has had a particularly good performance. And of course, the opposite is true after a devastating loss or a particularly poor performance.

[00:01:57] But there are also games or performances that weren't spectacularly good or bad. What's the car ride home like in those scenarios? I think we would all agree that the last thing we want our kids to do after a game, particularly after a loss, is to dread the car ride home with us. Some kids dread this drive home because they're going to have to hear us give our opinions on what just happened. They're a captive audience. There's nowhere else for them to go. They're trapped. And so they may be forced to absorb some. I told you SOS or you need to step it ups or you didn't look like you really cared that much out there. And for some athletes, this is exactly what happens. And exactly why they dreaded so much. Parents can find themselves saying too much or too little or the wrong things altogether. Now, I don't claim to have all the answers or a monopoly on the quote unquote, right way to give feedback on the drive home. But I do have a lot of reps with this exact scenario. I have four sons who have played all levels of sports since they were very young with some big highs and some low lows and everything in between. And of course, there is no one formula for feedback that will work for every child. There will be wild differences in feedback based on age and gender and sport and maturity level, your level of knowledge of the sport and many other factors that come into play. That's part of our job as parents, is to read the room and know how to make the right call. I have identical twins who are of similar abilities athletically. They play the same sports, often the same positions, and even they take feedback differently.

[00:03:53] Each child is unique. So take my advice with a grain of salt and view it within the context of your own child. My point is, I don't have the answer, quote unquote. I'm simply going to review some general guidelines that I have found seem to work well with my sons after a lot of trial and error in the hopes that you can get some value from it. And the value may be that I have it all wrong and you have a better method. That would be great if you're doing everything right using your method. Awesome. Keep up the good work. But there may be some people out there thinking, Oh, I never thought of that tactic. Let me give it a try. Aw geez. I never thought my child could read into my comments as deeply as some do. So here are the five guiding principles that I use when providing feedback to my kids. Guiding principle number one, keep your cool. Avoid the crazy, lunatic, wild eyed reactions in either direction. Whether your child wins the national championship or they lose the state final on an obviously bad officiating call. Be measured in your reaction, both in your excitement and in your disappointment? In my opinion, you just don't want your child to think that you are too invested in the outcome, either good or bad. I don't think it's healthy if you go too crazy with over-the-top praise or face paint or heckling from the stands or jumping up and down or trash talking the other parents or fans. It just looks like you're putting too much emphasis on the game. You're overdoing it and it just looks bad. After all, you didn't win or lose the game. Your child won or lost the game or their team won or lost the game.

[00:05:50] It's not your game or match. Yes, you can be excited. You can be thrilled. You don't have to be a stone cold, unemotional eunuch. You can give a big bear hug after the game High five. You can be excited. But take the unhinged craziness down a few notches. For one, you don't want to embarrass your child. That's a big no no. But you also want to show your child that, wow, this is a great thing, that you're also keeping things in perspective. You're the parent, after all. And no matter how big a win or how devastating a loss you as a parent always have, the bigger picture in mind. You have the wisdom and the experience to know that the euphoria is great and you should revel in the wins, but that in the big scheme of things, life will probably be back to normal in a few days. And the same goes for the big loss. What happens when your child loses the big game or misses the game winning shot. Do you want them to see you crying and moping around and blaming the refs or the coach or the weather and hanging your head? No. They are looking to you for strength and solidity and support. You can be disappointed and bummed out. But show them that you know, that there are bigger issues in the world to worry about than this particular game. Being a parent is about being there for them in the good times and the bad times. Being a parent with an even keel who shows both great joy and pride when things go your way and an appropriate level of disappointment and solemnity when things go south. Now, some of you out there may disagree with me.

[00:07:42] Many of you out there may disagree with me. Your M.O. may be to jump up and down, wear crazy hats, trash talk other parents, yell at the refs, wear face paint, wave your fan finger or your rally towel, Ring the cowbell and go completely nuts. It's a free country. You can do what you want. Most of us have seen parents like that all over the place. Now, if that's your jam, go for it. Who am I to suggest that you might want to contain your deepest felt emotions? I'm not trying to hold you from being your authentic self. But I would like you to consider. How antics like that might land with your child. Why would you feel the need to go that over-the-top crazy out of game? Is it to show your child that you love and appreciate them so much? Is it to get attention from other people? Or is it to release some pent up frustration that you've been repressing since high school because you never had the chance to do such things? Just think about it. Think about why you might be acting or reacting the way you are and how that might make your child feel. Is it the win and the excitement and the hype about your child? Or is it about you? So guiding principle number one, keep your cool, guiding principle number two, make feedback optional. My sons and I have a routine after each game when we get in the car and we start driving home. I often go through what I call my notes. These are notes that I typed into my phone during the game. When I see something notable that happens, good or bad, it's just a little cryptic, bullet pointed list of things that will remind me of a particular play or a move or a controversial call, for example.

[00:09:36] And it's become a thing that we do, and we've been doing it for years. I'll never know for sure, but it seems like my sons like hearing the notes from their games. They enjoy reminiscing about certain plays or shots or defensive stops, whatever it might be, especially if it's a wind. And it seems that they're interested in hearing what I picked up on during the game. However, when we get into the car. I don't assume that they want to hear the notes. Usually they do, but I don't want to assume so. Even if we've done the same routine for five or six games in a row, sometimes they may just not want to hear it that night for whatever reason. So I like to give my children the choice to opt out of the feedback on the way home. It's not mandatory. Now, this doesn't happen that often. And when it does. Meaning they opt out of the notes on the drive home. It usually happens after a big loss or after a game where they haven't played particularly well. But I will say that 90% of the time, the next morning at breakfast, they want to hear the notes. But in the moment, on the way home, sometimes they just want a break. So I give them the option. It's not a forced march. Guiding principle number three give good and bad feedback. Of course, it's more fun to give good feedback, but in my opinion you have to incorporate bad feedback to. If there's bad feedback to be had. It's pretty rare that a child is going to have a perfect, flawless game. Because if there's too much flattery and no pushback, the child will start to take the praise less seriously. You become a cartoon character who does nothing but massage their egos and tell them how great they are all day, every day, every game.

[00:11:28] That's being a sycophant. That's not being objective, and it's not overly helpful. I think it's also lazy. It's easy only to see the good things that your child does and to filter out all the bad stuff. It's a very natural bias that we all engage in regularly if we're not vigilant. Many parents are completely blind to any shortcomings of their own child. They believe everything that their child does is perfect. I will admit it. It's hard to acknowledge when your child makes mistakes. And they screwed up this player or this goal or that pass. But if you want your child to take your praise seriously, you need to balance the praise with some legitimate, constructive criticism as well. Otherwise, they think you're just blowing smoke up there. But and that certainly is not helpful. Guiding principle number four, Be specific. If the extent of your feedback is, Honey, you are so great out there. You scored so many goals and you look like you were really hustling out there. I loved it. There's nothing wrong with that per say, but generic, nonspecific praise. Sometimes makes it seem like you weren't really paying attention all that much because it's easy to make these types of flattering statements. Even if you had spent 90% of the game scrolling on your phone or talking to Bill about how to hedge against inflation. Now, if your feedback consists of specific call outs about the missed call at the end of the second quarter or when the scores table forgot to reset the shot clock after the timeout or that elite level touch pass that led to that important goal or the head nod they gave to a teammate that turned into a lob pass for a score. That level of detail will get your child's attention.

[00:13:25] They're going to wonder to themselves how the heck you picked up on that level of subtlety. And whether they're aware of it or not, when they know you're paying attention to that level of detail, they feel loved. Because how many kids out there just want to know that their parents are paying attention to them, to them specifically, not just to their carpool schedule or their end of semester grades, but to the details and the nuances of their craft. How many times do you have during the day or during a week? To show your kids that you see them. And that you appreciate all of the hard work they're putting in day in, day out. Providing detailed feedback is one way to do this. And lastly, guiding principle number five, be a matter of fact with criticism. If your child had a bad game or match or race and they opt to hear your feedback on the drive home anyway. Tell them the truth. You don't have to shove it in their face. Just tell them what you saw. Be matter of fact about it. I remember leading off one of my notes sessions with one of my sons with something along these lines. Well, overall, that was probably the worst game I've seen you play in a while. It was rough that first quarter. You missed that gimme right out of the gate. I don't really know what you were thinking about out there, but it certainly did not look good. I do like how you bounce back on defense and you stop that guy driving to the left. And so on and so on and so on. My point is don't sugarcoat the game and make it seem like everything was hunky dory when it obviously wasn't.

[00:15:13] Or, God forbid, start laying the blame on someone or something else. The coach, the refs, the weather, because your child will see right through that. They don't need to be protected from the truth. We have enough of that going on outside of the family. Call it out if it was bad as evenly handed as you dole out the good stuff. I found that when you acknowledge that things went bad, that your child breathed a sigh of relief. And they say, Yeah, I really sucked that game. If you ignore the bad games or you don't talk about it, or you try to sugarcoat it or make excuses or sweep it under the rug, there's no release. Your child oftentimes wants to get it all out in the open. They want to hear about how bad that play was. They want to commiserate. They don't want you to ignore them or make it seem like everything was fine because it wasn't. Make failure and acknowledging bad plays just a normal part of the conversation. Here's an example of what that might sound like. You remember in the first quarter when you wield that kid like he was standing still, that was epic. And then you scored again, again. And that same exact part of the goal, the goalie was so pissed. And then the very next play, I don't know what happened on your pass to the Post. You obviously blew that one. It looks like you overthrew it. That was a bummer. I bet you wish you could have that one back then. You stole the pass to the post and you made that full court pass right on the money, right to the guy's head. That was a great recovery. This is the type of back and forth, in my opinion, that seems healthy.

[00:16:51] Don't just give all the good stuff. Give some of the bad stuff, too. You don't have to dwell on the bad stuff or overemphasize it. Just give it the same weight as the good stuff. And if your child is good, the positives will typically outweigh the negatives. So let me review the five guiding principles on how to give athletic feedback to kids. Number one, keep your cool. Number two, make feedback optional. Number three, give good and bad feedback. Number four, be specific. And number of five. Be matter of fact with your criticism. I was inspired to talk about this topic based on something that happened last week on the pool deck. My 18 year old son, Kiefer, he and I were watching his younger brother Dexter, who's an eighth grader, play in a water polo game. It was going to be one of the last times that Kiefer would get to see Dexter play before he heads off to college. So we're sitting there waiting for the game to start small talk or watching warm ups. And just as the game was about to start, I reach down to my pocket and realized I had forgotten my phone at home. Great. And I probably let out an expletive under my breath about how stupid I was to leave my phone at home. Oh, well, I guess I'll just have to do without my phone. And about 2 minutes into the game, I looked over at my 18 year old and saw that he was typing something on his phone. So I nudged him and I said, Hey, Keith, let's pause on the texting your friends during the game. Dex is going to know that you're not paying attention. And he looked at me and he said, Dad.

[00:18:39] I'm not texting. I'm taking your notes for you. And this small gesture meant a lot to me. It meant that maybe he really did like hearing my notes in the car on the drive home. The good. The bad and the ugly. And he knew his brother did, too. And he was there. To keep the tradition alive. And I like to think of that. As positive feedback. That's all I've got for you today, folks. Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for your continued support. And in case you didn't know, this podcast supports prep academies online mentoring program where high schoolers and their parents receive weekly videos from me, where I break down important topics and give timely advice about college admissions, particularly for top tier colleges, service academies, and for ROTC and athletic scholarships. Many parents who listened to this podcast already have their high schoolers enrolled in Prep Academy, which is great if you don't yet. Please consider enrolling them. Registration is only open during freshman or sophomore year. After that, we no longer accept new students. So if you have a freshman or a sophomore in high school and you like what you're hearing in these podcasts and you like to get more content like this tailored specifically for your child, for their specific grade and with their specific goals in mind. Go to and enroll today. If you know a parent with a middle schooler or high schooler that might find this helpful, please share the episode with them and give us a rating too if you get a chance. Word of mouth and positive ratings help our podcasts reach a much wider audience. If you have questions, comments, or an idea for an upcoming episode, please reach out to me by email.

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