Parent Behavior: We Lost! Now What?


Every parent knows that communicating with their child after a loss isn’t easy. In fact, it’s times like these when you truly must act like a caring and knowledgeable adult. What are some guidelines for parent behavior after a loss?

Post-Game Follow-up

  • Compliment the coaches and sport officials for doing a good job, and be sure to thank them for their contributions.
  • STOP focusing on whether your child won or lost.
  • LOOK for signs that indicate how your child is feeling (facial expressions, tears, body language).
  • LISTEN to what your child has to say before you provide input. Begin with a supportive greeting, and then ask open-ended questions:

“What part of the game did you enjoy the most/least?”

“What was the best/worst thing about your performance?”

“Were you satisfied with your effort?”

If not, “What do you intend to do about effort in the future?”

“What was the most important thing you learned from the game?”

Tips for Moms and Dads

  • Don’t blame or get angry with your child. He or she feels bad enough already.
  • Avoid the temptation to deny or distort the disappointment your child is feeling. For example, it is not helpful to say, “It doesn’t matter.”
  • Point out something positive that was achieved during the game. Here are some things to say:

“Great effort and improvement. Keep working hard, and winning will take care of itself.”

“That was a tough one to lose, but your defense showed improvement. Stay with it, and it’ll pay off.”

“Really good effort. That’s all anyone can ask. I’m proud of you.”

“It never feels good to lose, but you showed terrific sportsmanship. Way to go!”

  • If your child hasn’t given maximum effort, communicate your unhappiness without putting down the youngster as a person. Focus on the future and emphasize athletes owe it to themselves and their team to give maximum effort.
  • Ask your child, “Did you learn anything from this that you can apply in school and in other parts of your life?

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Frank L. Smoll, Ph.D., and Ronald E. Smith, Ph.D., for this article. Drs. Smoll and Smith are sport psychologists at the University of Washington and co-directors of Youth Enrichment in Sports. To see previews of their Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports and Mastery Approach to Coaching DVDs, visit


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