7 Effective Communication Tips For Sports Parents

As parents, we learn early that our kids ARE watching.

All.The.Time.

Has this ever happened to you?

  • At a restaurant, your 4-year old loudly slurps up his spaghetti EXACTLY the way your spouse does.
  • After a teammate misses a goal, your son yells, “Seriously?” And you immediately realize he’s heard that expression at home—a few too many times.
  • While Grandma is visiting, your sweet kindergartner is overheard saying a curse-word in her room—one that both you AND Grandma know came from your mouth first.
  • Your athlete’s tendency to over-react under stress is reminiscent of some dramatic responses he’s witnessed at home.
You are teaching your kids, even when you don’t mean to teach.

This is especially true in the way that we communicate. Whether you get your point across in verbal or nonverbal ways, whether you are mostly positive or mostly negative, and whether you’re very open or usually closed-off while communicating, YOUR KIDS ARE TAKING NOTES.

If you’ve never looked at the communication skills your child is picking up, then there are 2 compelling reasons to pay attention:

  1. His communication skills—or lack of—will follow him into adult life.
  2. The quality of communication she is used to having, impacts her self-esteem.
Here are 7 easy-to-implement tips to make your communication with your athlete more effective.
1) Listen With Your Eyes 

Making eye contact while in conversation is “Basic Listening 101.”

Multi-tasking when your child is talking to you, or when you are talking to her, excludes the eyes and gives the message that you aren’t REALLY interested in what’s being said.

Try to make it a point to stop what you are doing and listen with your eyes. You’ll also have the added bonus of picking up on things that aren’t necessarily verbalized–which leads to the next tip.

2) Watch Your Body Language

Specifically, it’s important to be gentle with AND aware of your body language.

Your kids thrive on your approval. They are ALWAYS looking for it. And you don’t have to say a single word for them to feel validated or judged. In fact, over half of communications take place in facial expressions, gestures, and posture.

If you’ve ever witnessed an athlete regularly looking toward the stands, you’ve seen this type of communication in action. That athlete is looking for any sign–through body language–that their parent is proud of them and happy with their efforts.

Be gentle with the message you give because a visual cue—like hands on the hips, rolling your eyes, a downcast look, crossed arms, furrowed brow, etc.— can be as powerful and painful as the words you say.

3) Be Curious, Not Judgemental 

It might seem like your job as a parent is to address every wrong thing your child does, says, and thinks. However, if being effective is essential, then your approach to issues is important.

Immediately asking your child, “What happened? Why did you do that?” puts her on the defense. She KNOWS you’re not happy and the reality is she probably isn’t very proud of herself. It’s a quick way to shut all healthy communication down.

A better approach would be to say, “How did you feel about that game?” or “What was your approach to studying for that test?”

Suspend judgment–I know, easier said than done–and ask questions that allow your child to respond with an honest and heartfelt answer. 

4) Ask Open-Ended Questions

This tip is very close to number 3 but points to the significance of “how” you word a question.

It’s easiest to explain with an example.

You could say to your teen, “Are you mad right now?” or you could say, “How are you feeling right now?”

As you may have guessed the second one is more effective because it gives your child freedom in how they answer rather than going off YOUR assumption that they are mad.

They may be ACTING angry, but perhaps it’s because they are embarrassed or frustrated or sad, and not really angry at all.

Keep questions open, and conversation will be open.

5) Differentiate Between Opinions and Facts

Did your mom or grandma ever say, “Cleanliness is next to godliness”?

It’s a quote that was recorded back in the 1700s, so it’s been around for a while. And more than likely your mom or grandma said it with firm conviction–almost as though it were fact.

The truth of the matter, it’s just an opinion.

We are all guilty of doing this from time to time–especially with our kids. We state OUR opinions as though they are factual.

  • “You came in too late last night.”
  • “You came in after 11:00 PM.”

Which of these is an opinion? Hint: anytime you say the word, “too” you are probably stating an opinion. And although Mom and Dad’s opinion matters when it comes to the rules of the house, effective communication is best accomplished when you don’t act as though your opinions are facts.

6) Smile

There is a Chinese proverb that says, “A man without a smiling face should not open up a shop.”

It reflects the wisdom that a smile is a planet-wide expression of friendliness and warmth towards a person. It’s a perfect start for good communication.

Your athlete battles the stress of competition and the insecurities from making mistakes—almost daily.

An accepting smile from you opens the door to feeling safe and being transparent.

7) Elevate the Conversation

Quality-control when it comes to conversations is learned well when it is modeled regularly. Some communicating brings more value to everyone involved.

Teach your athlete that talking negatively about others is small-minded. Always talking about “things” makes one materialistic.

Elevate your conversations by making sure you talk about concepts like:

  • Love
  • Kindness
  • Work-ethic
  • Thoughtfulness
  • Teamwork
Moving Forward

Communication is a lifelong skillset. Teach your kids these tools early, and you set them up for successful relationships. The quality of our relationships depends on the quality of our conversations.

How about you? Do you have any that your parents taught you that you now pass on to your kids? We’d love to hear about them. Share in the comments.

Sport Family Coach at

Founder of Growing Champions for Life, David helps sports parents and coaches incorporate positivity and persistence into their communication with the young athletes who count on their encouragement and guidance. An eight-time national water skiing champion, five-time national record holder in water ski jumping, former World Championship U.S. Water Ski Team coach, and proud professional sports parent, he understands first-hand the challenges and rewards of competition. His extensive experience as a corporate leadership coach for Nextel, Sprint, Allstate, Balfour Beatty, The Villages and other companies provides David with unique insight into the skills needed to excel in sports, business and life. He brings an athlete's discipline, a coach's inspiration, and a parent's practical experience to his mission to grow not just champion young athletes, but holistically well-rounded individuals equipped for lifelong excellence.

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