How to Help Your Child or Teenage Athlete Through a Loss
Teenagers love playing sports. And parents love that their teenagers can get all of that excess energy out while learning the benefits of hard work and comradery.
But with the thrill of competition comes the hard reality: sometimes you lose. Some teenagers are barely affected by a loss. They are truly happy just running around on the field or court with their friends. They enjoy working hard and appreciate the life lessons learned from sports. Other children and teenagers, however, feel devastated after a loss.
There are a few things you can do if your child or teenager seems to struggle after losing a game:
Don’t assume you know exactly what is bothering your teen. Before you provide any advice, listen to how and what they are feeling so you know how best to address the issue. Every child responds to a loss differently, and sometimes it might not even be the loss itself they are upset about. For all you know, a teammate said something upsetting under their breath that your child is stewing about. Even if they are upset about the game, your son/daughter may be upset that they didn’t play their best or they could be seething about a mistake another player made. Regardless, the first step to helping is to let go of any assumptions, ask and truly listen to your athlete explain what they are feeling.
Some younger athletes may have a hard time processing their feelings. They know they feel bad, but they can’t express exactly what it is that is bothering them. Even high school athletes rarely understand all of the complicated emotions they are feeling. High School can be a confusing time for anyone, but when you add in the complicated emotions that come with high school athletics it’s no wonder they have difficulty even telling you what is wrong.
Consider asking questions like:
• What part of the game was the most and least fun for you?
• Were you satisfied with your efforts?
• What did you think you did well, and what could you work on for the next game?
• What was something important you learned from today’s game?
Don’t Deny Reality
There is no point in telling your teen that it doesn’t matter (when it does to them) or that they did great (if they didn’t). They know the truth and if you’re denying it, they’ll have a hard time believing anything you say in the future.
Instead of denying reality, be open with your child while gently guiding the conversation toward future strategies for positive outcomes. This can help them learn to fully accept themselves. It’s important that we teach children and teenagers that everyone makes mistakes and disappointing things happen. Sports, particularly when their team loses, can be an excellent teacher. You want your son or daughter to learn that they can survive the disappointment of losing and that any mistakes they made don’t define them.
Don’t Try to Protect Your Child
Many parents try to shield their child from feeling negative emotions. We don’t like feeling embarrassment, disappointment or frustration and it hurts to think of your child feeling that way. While you may think you are protecting your athlete, the fact is, disappointment and loss is a part of life. Losing a game is actually a pretty good life lesson.
Disappointment and sadness feel bad, but you don’t want to teach your son or daughter to avoid bad feelings. These feelings play a key role in your child’s emotional, intellectual and social development. It is important for your teen to learn to deal with negative emotions and setbacks now so they don’t derail them as adults. Learning to face, accept and cope with negative emotions is key to a person’s mental health.
Avoid your instinct to “protect” your student athlete from disappointment. Instead, guide them through their emotions and help them learn to cope.
Counseling for Teenage Athletes
If your child or teenager has a particularly hard time dealing with loss and disappointment and you would like to have them talk to someone, please be in touch. Our intake coordinator or clinical director would be happy to discuss treatment options. At Aspire Counseling, we provide counseling services to young athletes in the Columbia, MO area. We understand the challenges that come with balancing the demands of high school sports, academics, friendships, relationships with parents and mental health. We work with high school athletes who feel depression, anxious, have thought about suicide or are feeling devastated by a major athletic injury. We also help student athletes who just want to learn mindfulness to focus and improve their athletic performance, learn to better balance school and athletics, or young adults who seem to be constantly fighting with their parents.
We can help your teenager maintain optimal mental health and our therapists will work with your child’s academic and athletic schedule to help your family find balance. Call 573-328-2288 to get your child or teenager set up with a skilled, caring mental health therapist!