The Car Ride Home

Katherine Tamminen, University of Toronto

Tuesday, October 2, 2018 - 09:00

Active for Life has declared the first week of October “Parents in Sport Week.” Parents play an undeniably important role in the lives of young athletes – providing opportunities for participation, serving as role models, and helping athletes make sense of their sport experiences. The ways that parents engage with their children during the car ride home after games and practices has the potential to impact their child’s enjoyment and ongoing participation in sport.

In our study, we interviewed 27 athletes and their parents separately about their experiences during the car ride home. They shared positive and negative experiences, and what they did and didn’t like. They also provided the suggestions below for improving the car ride home:

  1. Give time to think, and take time to think: One athlete said, “Give me space. If I’m feeling down or not happy, I would really appreciate it if my mom gave me some space and some time to let me think about it.” Parents also spoke about taking time for themselves to think before discussing the athlete’s performance during the car ride home: “I let things sort of wait… sometimes I’m high on adrenaline as well, right? Sometimes I say something and I don’t mean to say it in the way that I say it, because it just comes out wrong but I’m just so.. I’m not thinking about my words right?”
  2. Develop “rules of the road”: Some parents and athletes said they had specific conversations where they set up their preferences for post-game conversations: “I asked my mom, can you start with something positive? If you start with something positive then it’s a little bit better for me to take-in all the negative things that happened.” Parents can ask their athlete what type of conversations they’d like to have – “How do you want me to act after a bad game?” and “Is there anything you do/don’t want me to say after games and practices?”
  3. Ask questions in a supportive manner: Athletes said that parents may not realize their questions can come across as confrontational, even if they didn’t mean to be. Parent awareness of the way questions are asked and tone of voice can go a long way to helping athletes feel less threatened by questions about their performance. Ask questions in a way that invites your athlete to share their experiences with you, exploring what happened during competition, rather than adopting a confrontational tone. One parent described the types of questions that led to productive conversations with their child: “[my husband] will say ‘but I don’t understand when you did this, this other girl did this other move and I don’t understand that.’ So it’s more about trying to understand the sport.”
  4. Be positive: Above all, athletes wanted their parents to be supportive, no matter what: “I kinda wish that my parents, on the car ride home, if it not so good of a game, I kinda wish they would be a little supportive because at the end of the day they are my parents and so they should be supportive no matter what.”

Adapted from a 2018 SIRCuit article.

About the Author: Katherine Tamminen is a faculty member at the University of Toronto (Ontario, Canada) in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education. Her research in sport psychology examines young athletes’ experiences in sport, parent-athlete interactions, and stress and coping among athletes. Katherine works with athletes, parents, and coaches as a sport psychology/mental training consultant to help individuals improve their performance and overall experiences in sport.


Tamminen, K. A., Poucher, Z., & Povilaitis, V. (2017). The car ride home: An interpretive analysis of parent-child sport conversations. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology, 6(4), 325-339. doi: 10.1037/spy0000093.