Hey Mom, Here’s What I Need on the Car Ride Home from My Game

One mom's eye-opening revelation that her son needed space after his games...

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: Hey Mom, Here’s What I Need on the Car Ride Home from My Game

Written by: Carol Moore

“Hey Mom, on the car ride home from my game, no questions, please. No instant replays, highlight reels, or opinions about my coaches. Please don’t vent your frustrations or try to ease mine. I love that you came to watch me play, but I really don’t want to play the game again in the car. It’s super hard to say all of this to you, but what I would really love is if we could just get some food.”  ~ Your Teen

While these words may not speak for every teen, they spoke for one of mine and I wish he had spoken them sooner.

My husband and I have spent hundreds, if not thousands of hours in the car with our two young athletes after games. We traveled around the country as well as to two countries in Europe to watch them play sports. We spent countless hours on bleachers cheering for their triumphs and helping them pick up the pieces after crushing disappointments.

The tears, the sweat, the blood – we lived it all with them, and it was an incredible journey. But if I could go back a few years, there is one thing I would do differently – I would let them take the lead on the car ride home. 

Hey Mom, Here’s What I Need on the Car Ride Home from My Game


The car rides were lighthearted and fun… at first.

We laughed. We talked about the wins and losses and awesome plays. After games it was all about snacking,  going out for pizza, having pool parties, developing friendships with other players, and having a sense of camaraderie with other parents – it was easy and low pressure and fun.

But then, pressure and high expectations, and stress started to kick in.

Before we knew it, things started to really change… all-stars, then club sports, then recruiting to higher-level club sports. There was pressure, and expectations, and, without us even realizing how fast and furious it was all happening, it started to become more like a job for our boy. That’s when we really started to notice changes on those car rides home (which were often long).

My son became quieter and more irritable. More often than not, he would put his headphones on right away  – clearly a sign that he wanted nothing more than to shut out the world.

My husband and I were beginning to feel somewhat helpless. We wanted him to be happy, to feel a sense of accomplishment and pride after his games, and to feel fully supported by us, but it was becoming so much harder, especially after some of the more difficult and disappointing games. 

We thought we were doing the right thing. We thought it would be a good time to “go over” things (so to speak) on these car rides home. If he had a bad game, we wanted to lift him up and encourage him to learn from the mistakes he might have made, and to help him understand that others on the team also made mistakes. It wasn’t about being perfect.

On the flip side, if he had a successful game, we wanted to celebrate with him and remind him how all of his hard work and dedication was paying off.

We began to realize that our attempts to encourage or soothe our son after his games weren’t what he needed…

You see, our son is highly competitive – he was born that way. He’s also very hard on himself. And, as he became older and more involved in competitive sports, these two character traits played a large role not only in his success as an athlete but also in how much he took to heart the outcome of every single game.

He was driven, focused, and determined to be the best and to win. So, when the team lost or he didn’t perform as well as he could have (at least in his eyes), he didn’t offer himself much grace. 

Any parent of an athlete knows… when it comes to youth sports there can be plenty of frustrating games with disappointing or unfair outcomes.

There were games where we couldn’t make any sense of his coach’s decisions. More often than not, emotions ran very high at games with parents yelling at referees, yelling at their own children, and sometimes even being asked to leave the field or court because of their behavior.

The difficult part was that all of this emotion, energy, passion, and the exhaustive outbursts we often witnessed at games carried over to our car rides home.

That’s when we had to ask ourselves hard questions.

The higher up the ranks our son climbed and the more that was at stake, the quieter he became in the car. It was at this point that we had to get honest with ourselves and ask some hard questions.

Are we helping him to process his emotions or are we needing to process our own as well?

Is he actually asking for our advice and opinions about the game on the car ride home or are we asserting our own thoughts because we feel the need to talk about it?

Are we respectfully taking in the cues that he is giving us with his headphones on and his device wedged deliberately between his heart and ours? 

The honest answers to these questions were eye-opening for us.

We realized that our son needed space after his games, especially after a game that didn’t go well. He needed time to process his experience in his own time and in his own way. He wasn’t asking for our advice or opinions and he certainly didn’t want to relive every play on the drive home.

What we ultimately learned was to let our son take the lead.

If he wanted to talk or replay the events of the game or vent, we were all in. If he found solace by putting on his headphones and shutting out the world on the ride home, we let him have the space to decompress.

And, maybe one of the most important things we learned with absolute certainty was that, no matter how good or bad the game went, going somewhere to get burgers and fries on the car ride home seemed to be the best way to end the day for both us AND our son.

About Carol Moore:

Carol is a certified Coach, Parenting Teens Advocate, and author of Bridges Not Barriers – The Art of Building a Better Connection with Your Teen. She is also a designated Global Presence Ambassador for Parenting 2.0, a non-profit organization recognized around the globe for the Life Skills educational process. With 15 years of experience working with young children and their families, and having raised two teens of her own, she has a passion for sharing her knowledge in raising teens with grace, compassion, honesty, and trust. Follow Carol on Instagram and check out her book here: BRIDGES Not BARRIERS: The Art of Building a Better Connection with Your Teen

If you enjoyed reading, “Hey Mom, Here’s What I Need on the Car Ride Home from My Game,” you might enjoy these posts, too!

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