How To Talk With Kids About Their Sports Performance

Tips For Coaches & Parents About The Post-Event Conversation

What do you say when your first see a young athlete after a sports performance?

What are you communicating through your initial words, actions and demeanour?

Are you being helpful or damaging?

Your Approach

When I first see a young athlete in the days after a sports competition, I ensure that I am never first to mention the event.

I always let the athlete lead the conversation.


I think that it is unhelpful for a young athlete to feel any adult intensity or expectation revolving around their sports performances.

I feel that a relaxed approach that gives the impression that the whole world doesn’t revolve around their recent performance is best. So I deliberately talk about something else first.

If kids want to chat with you about their performance, they will. If they don’t, you save them a lot of angst by not asking.

Be relaxed in your approach and mindful of your impact.

How To Start The Conversation?

My 3 year-old daughter has swimming lessons while I am at work. When I get home, I really hope to hear about the lesson. But I deliberately don’t ask her about it. Rather, I ask her about her day. If she brings up the lesson, great. If not – fine. I respect that. This gives me a great insight into where her priorities lie.

So, what is the first thing you should say to young athletes after they have competed?

Prompt the child to talk but not about the performance.

For example, if a young athlete has competed over the weekend at an event that I have not attended, when I see them for the first time at practice the following week, I will never open the conversation with anything to do with the competition. Even if I am busting to know what happened or how they performed. My approach to is to warmly greet an athlete with a big smile, and open up with a very general question such as “What’s been happening?” This may trigger the athlete to talk about their performance. If not, that’s OK. We chat about whatever topic they bring up.

If I am at the event with them and they have just walked off the track, the above approach is more difficult. It would seem unnatural and even a bit weird to avoid all conversation about the performance. The athlete may think something is awry. So what to do? I might first greet them with a high five and pose a simple “How was that?” or “How was it?” or “What did you think?” I will avoid making  observations, providing feedback or analysing what just occurred. Their response to the initial remark will indicate how much they want to chat about their performance at that particular time. Whatever they say, don’t contradict their opinion. If they state that they were upset or not happy, don’t try to tell them they they did well. Just nod and maybe say “Why do you say that?” or “Why do you feel that way?” This opens up a space for them to tell you about their performance. Don’t try to tell them about their performance.

If and when kids do talk about an event, tread cautiously and be mindful of not open the question floodgates. It may begin to feel like an interrogation to the young athlete.

Avoid hitting an athlete with a barrage of questions.

Listening and skilful questioning are the most important things. Use “How did you feel about that?”  to invite, but not pressure, them to share more. Other suitable questions may include “What did you most enjoy today?” or “What were you most happy with?”

Never enquire about the athlete’s placing or win/loss. They will tell if they want to.

Don’t Assume

It’s important not to pre-empt an athlete’s feelings.

Rather than assume they are happy or unhappy with a performance, give them the space to tell you. Assuming that they are happy with a performance (“Well done, that was great!”) when they are not can lead to a very annoyed athlete.  Worse still, assuming that they are unhappy with a performance that they are actually proud of can deflate the athlete. Imagine that you begin consoling an athlete about a result that they are happy with?

Again, the question “How do you feel about that?” can be a great way to unlock where the athlete stands.

5 Tips For Your Post-Event Chat

  1. Be relaxed in your approach and mindful of your impact.
  2. Let the child lead the conversation.
  3. Prompt the child to talk, but not about the performance.
  4. Avoid offering observations, feedback or analysis.
  5. Avoid assuming how an athlete feels.

Ideas For Action

Approach your next post event conversation with awareness, intent and empathy. Allow the athlete to lead the conversation. I would love to hear how it goes and what you learn. Let me know by leaving a comment/reply or by using the contact details.

If this post helped you please take a moment to help others by sharing it on social media. If you want to learn more I encourage you to leave questions and comments or contact me directly.

Darren Wensor is a sports development professional, coach educator, specialist coach of young athletes, and founder of the blog Learn more about him here and connect with him on TwitterFacebookLinkedin, or via email. Check out Coaching Young Athletes on YouTube, the Coaching Young Athletes podcast, and the Coaching Young Athletes E-Book Series.

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