By Cheryl Jean-Paul

High school seasons are starting in a few weeks and just as the competition levels rise from junior high to junior varsity to varsity, so do the expectations of parents, coaches and athletes.  Picture the last basketball conversation you had with your child as you drove home from their game. What was the first question you asked? Did you get more than a 1 word answer? (Fine, whatever, sure, dunno, yeah…) If your answer was one of the following…this blog’s for you!

Wrong questions to ask:

Why didn’t you play more? Why didn’t you score more? Why didn’t you win? Were you not
trying out there? How could you let that kid score on you? Why does player B
start – you are definitely better, doesn’t your coach see that?

Now I am not a trained psychologist, in fact I can’t even spell that word correctly most
of the time, so take this advice with a grain of salt from someone who has been
in the passenger seat for many years and has also spent some time sitting in the
driver’s seat as my younger sisters were going through high school.

There are 2 ways of communicating when it comes to basketball - commentary and
conversation. What’s the difference? Turn on the TV to any sporting event and
you’ll get great examples of commentary…language, comments, thoughts and
questions that have absolutely no impact on the game but are heard constantly.
Often times when we get frustrated or don’t understand how to change a
situation, we easily fall into this category.

Think about the last time you went to a game to watch. Listen to the fans, the coaches and the
athletes and ask yourself – commentary or conversation? Teaching or preaching?
Once the play is over and can’t be changed and you hear the coach yell, “You
have to stop them!”, that’s commentary. Or when the player misses a rebound and
on the way down the floor their teammate yells, “That was your board!”, that’s
commentary. Or when an athlete on the floor turns over the ball and a fan
yells, “Pass the ball!” that’s commentary. Or when you’re walking out of the
gym and you overhear one of the other parents (not you of course) say, “You
should have played more”, that’s commentary.

So, how do you bring meaningful conversation into the drive home even when you’re thinking
that your kid should have played play, should have scored more, should have won
the game, wasn’t giving 100% effort, could have stopped their opponent but
didn’t and should have started if their coach had any idea how do to their job?

Question #1 should always be: Did you have fun today?

Now, this may seem like a whimsical question since many of you think that of course your
kid is having fun or they wouldn’t be playing otherwise (or that when the team
wins that automatically means they had fun) but the reality is that the more
parents expect and push their kids to succeed, the less the athlete seems to
enjoy the sport. In a survey conducted by Basketball Canada with the Centre for
Performance athletes, the reason given why most kids participate in basketball
and sport in general is because they love it. What is “it”? Getting yelled at
by coaches, parents, teammates? Making mistakes, fouling out, and shooting
poorly? Sitting on the bench?  Embarrassedbecause their mom or dad is “the crazy fan?”  If you don’t know why your son or daughter plays basketball, then maybe this question can go a little further. Why do you
enjoy playing? What do you like about this team? What is something funny that
happened today in practice or in the game? You might be surprised by the
conversation that will happen when you are more willing to listen than talk!

Question #2: What is your role on the team?

What you see is not always what you get. There are a lot of things that coaches base
their decisions upon. Events that happened prior to the game, situations in
practice that week, tactical decisions based on the opponent, conversations
between coaches and athletes, disciplinary issues….and often times it’s not
what your child can or cannot do but what someone else on the team is doing.
That’s the beauty of team sports!  A team cannot do well with 12 superstars – role players are just as important to the success of the team. You need scorers and rebounders and tough defenders and
shooters and passers and playmakers and encouragers and motivators and
competitors and athletes that are ready to step in to help wherever needed.
What role does your child play in your eyes vs. their own?

Question #3: What are your goals for this year/season?

Some of the other information that came from the Basketball Canada survey was that both
parents and athletes thought that winning championships was the least important
role for school and club team programs. So if we think less about winning and
more about the process, what do we talk about? Knowing what your child wants to
work on and where they see their direction going in a sport is a great way to
figure out what kind of conversation to have in the car on the way home. High
school sports can mean so many different things to different athletes – for
some it’s about gaining a scholarship to a post-secondary program, for some
it’s about making a provincial team, for others it’s about staying in shape,
having fun, spending time with their friends and gaining great life-skills (I
don’t know how many high school kids would admit to that last one).

The Centre for Performance head coaches were given 15 assets that Canada Basketball
considered attractive attributes for a potential national team athlete…

Passion for the game, willingness to train, resilience, adaptability, character-driven
leadership, competitiveness, cooperative and considerate behaviour, bright
& a willingness to learn…

…Do you see why I cringe when the first question parents ask is about stats? All of those
assets are great because not only do they make your athlete better at what they
do on the court, but they also make them better everywhere – in school, at
work, at home, with friends…

Question #4: What can I do to help?

There are so many aspects of the game that can be worked on outside of the gym and so many
areas that need to be improved upon for our athletes to compete at the highest
levels. How your athlete eats and prepares for the game is crucial – so is
their recovery time. How many of you stop in for a quick McMeal on the way
home? How many of you stop by Tim’s on the way to the game for a donut and a
coffee? Talking about nutrition is great – what does your athlete need to eat?
Talk about supper ideas and encourage them to figure out what they feel good
about eating pre- and post- competition. Hydration – have a bottle of water in
the car for them to drink after a game, not a Slurpee!!! Many injuries go from
bad to worse because of poor recovery practices – ice if you have to, stretch
if you have to…encourage your athlete to take care of their bodies!

If you would rather have a basketball conversation, talk about tactics. What was the
other team’s game plan? How did your team get great scoring looks? What were
things that worked? What qualities did stronger opponents or teammates have
that your athlete can work on? The possibilities are endless.

Question #5: Does your child know how you feel about them?

What do athletes need from their parents? From experience I would say that the thing I
needed the least on the drive home was criticism, even if it was meant to be
constructive. As a high school athlete I can pretty much guarantee that no one
was harder on me than I was. I had very high expectations and didn’t accept
anything less. From watching the current CP athletes I can safely bet that many
of your athletes are the same way. Sometimes the best thing to talk about is
something that has nothing to do with basketball. Give them time to work things
through on their own. Sometimes the best thing is silence - give them the
chance to start the conversation. At all times, the most important thing for
them to hear is that you are proud of their effort and the person that they
are. Do you love your child more if they’re the top scorer? Seems like a silly
question but it never hurts to tell them that winning doesn’t change how you

Good luck and have a great ride home!

PS. If you want a great conversation, ask them to put the cell away, you’d be surprised how good a
non-text interrupted conversation can be!

Agree or disagree with what was said?  Have your own ‘best practices’? Register
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