Basketball on the Edge – How Do You Handle Losing?

When your young player loses a game what happens next? How do you handle the situation? How should you handle the situation? The key is to remember why your child is playing the game. Your goal as a parent should be to help them foster a love of the game, to encourage your young player to develop a growth mindset, and to help them develop their basketball skills. If you only define their success by wins and losses, both you and your child will be very unhappy.

The first thing you should do is allow a cooling off period immediately following the game. Kids react differently to losing and you know your child best, but all young players need time after a game to process what happened. As a parent you probably need that time too! You should avoid talking about specific situations in the game unless your child brings it up. What your young player always needs is your unconditional love and support. That doesn’t change whether they win or lose.

I always ask my kids three questions after a game. Did you have fun? Did you play hard? Did you listen to your coach? Most times I get a standard yes to all three and then I tell them, “I love watching you play!” Occasionally they will want to talk about something that happened in the game and we’ll go ahead and talk about it. Otherwise, I give them their space and let them work through the game on the car ride home.

Eventually, you may want to have a discussion with your young player about the game. Here are some guidelines for having that discussion.

  • Frame the discussion around a growth mindset and the opportunity to learn. A loss is not the end of the world, help your child use it as a springboard to improve. Don’t belittle your young player or scream at them. They won’t react favorably to these tactics and using them repeatedly will often drive them away from the sport. They started playing because the game was fun, don’t take that away from them. They need your love and support regardless of whether they win or lose a game!
  • Don’t blame other players, the referees, or the coach for the loss. There is no worse lesson you can teach your young player than to make excuses. By making excuses or blaming others you are setting up your child to always point the finger at someone else and not take responsibility. It is only by taking responsibility for what happened that we as parents can set the table for improvement. Losing happens to everyone, even the very best players in the world. Use the loss to help your young player understand the game better and use it as motivation to improve. How do you do that? You can ask these questions during your discussion of the game.

“What did you learn from the game?”
“What was something you did really well during the game?”
“What was something that you can improve on during practice before the next game”?
“What was your favorite part of the game or the best play?”

  • Try to relate the loss to a real life lesson from your own life. An example might be how you learned from a mistake you made and it led to even greater success in the long run.
  • Be very specific in your praise. Kids don’t attach much meaning to the generic “Good Game!” comment. That often goes in one ear and out the other. Instead point out how they did a great job helping on defense or went 4 for 4 from the free throw line. That specific praise is most likely to be heard and appreciated.
  • You can also praise them for continuing to battle despite their team being behind or because they encouraged the rest of the team to step up their play or not give up even though they were losing. These are characteristics you want to encourage in your young player. Look for chances to teach these kinds life lessons through basketball.
  • A key point to talk to your young player about is that they have the ability to improve and play better the next game. That is the growth mindset. Their effort should never waver. That ability to work hard gets them through challenges like a tough loss or learning a new skill. Mistakes are part of getting better! Encourage them to think about how they played in this game and what they need to do in the next game.
  • Finally, if there is a specific mistake or decision you want to point out from the game, continue to frame it in such a way that encourages your young player to grow and learn. Explain what went wrong in the game and how with hard work in training they can make it right.

If you follow these simple guidelines for handling a loss you will be helping your young player foster a love of the game, you will encourage their growth mindset, and you will motivate them to improve their basketball skills. That process is what winning is all about.


Addicted to Getting Better - On and Off the Court