What to Do With a Child Who Cries During Sports: Empathy Leads the Game

Watching your child burst into tears during a sports game can tug at your heartstrings. It’s tough to see them upset, especially when they’re supposed to be having fun. But don’t worry, you’re not alone in this.

Crying is a natural response for kids feeling overwhelmed or frustrated, and sports can definitely bring out those emotions. The key is knowing how to handle the situation in a way that supports your child’s emotional needs while encouraging a healthy relationship with sports.

Navigating these moments can be tricky, but with a few strategies up your sleeve, you’ll be ready to turn those tears into cheers. Let’s dive into how you can help your child cope with the emotional ups and downs of playing sports.

Understanding the reasons behind the tears

As a sports enthusiast who’s been in the thick of the action, you appreciate the highs and lows that come with competition. Your experiences on the baseball diamond, the basketball court, and the football field have taught you that every athlete, no matter how young, has a different trigger for those game-time emotions.

First off, pressure to perform can be overwhelming, especially for the younger athletes. They’re often pushing themselves to meet not only their expectations but also what they perceive to be the expectations of coaches, parents, and peers. It’s important to recognize when the drive to excel is teetering on the edge of too much pressure.

Another reason kids might break into tears is frustration from mistakes. You’ve seen players beat themselves up over a missed catch or a fumbled ball—it’s a natural response when they’re still mastering the skills of the game. Patience is key here; every miss is a step toward improvement.

Odd as it might seem, some kids cry out of sheer excitement or joy. The rush of emotions after scoring a winning goal or hitting a home run can be overwhelming. It’s a poignant reminder that sports stir deep feelings, which can bubble over in various ways.

Lastly, there’s the undeniable fact that physical fatigue can make anyone more emotionally raw. Remember, young bodies are still developing. They tire easily, which can lead to emotional outbursts.

Here are a few quick pointers to keep in mind:

  • Listen actively to understand each child’s unique situation.
  • Encourage open communication to help them express their feelings off the field.
  • Promote a positive environment that emphasizes effort over outcomes.
  • Normalize emotions as a part of the sport and life in general.

Remember, every tear shed on the field is a valuable opportunity for you to teach resilience, understanding, and emotional intelligence in sports. And as a coach or parent, these are some of your most significant moments with your young athletes—it’s where your support can truly make a difference in their sports journey.

Validate your child’s emotions

When you see your child crying on the sports field, your first instinct might be to tell them to toughen up. But remember, showing empathy is crucial. While coaching little league or guiding young athletes on the basketball court, I learned that acknowledging a child’s feelings is the first step to help them move forward. It’s not just about the game; it’s about their growth.

Consider the situation from their point of view. Maybe they’re upset because they missed that crucial shot or because they feel let down by their performance. Perhaps it’s the weight of the team’s expectations that’s overwhelming them. Whatever it is, it’s real to them, and they need to know you understand that.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Listen actively. Don’t interrupt or diminish their feelings. Let them know it’s okay to feel upset.
  • Use statements like, “I see you’re upset because you wanted to win,” which shows you’re paying attention to both their feelings and why they feel that way.
  • Provide comfort and reassurance. A simple hug or a pat on the back can be a powerful message of support.

Teaching kids emotional vocabulary is another powerful tool. Help them articulate their feelings by talking about the different emotions they may experience. “Are you feeling sad because the game didn’t go well? Or are you frustrated because you know you can do better?” By naming their emotions, you empower them to take control and confront their feelings constructively.

Remember, it’s not just about suppressing the tears; it’s about understanding the why behind them. This not just builds emotional resilience but also strengthens your bond with your child. If they know you’re a safe haven for their feelings, they’re more likely to come to you when they face challenges. The playing field is where life lessons unfold, and each moment of vulnerability is a teachable moment that extends far beyond the final score.

Communicate with your child’s coach

When you see your child tearing up on the field or court, it’s crucial to loop in someone who plays a vital role during games or practice sessions: the coach. Your child’s coach wields significant influence and can be a powerful ally in addressing emotional moments. Open communication is essential.

You want to approach the coach with a cooperative mindset. Let them know you’ve noticed your child’s emotional responses during sports, and express your desire to work together to support your kid. Empathetic coaches are worth their weight in gold; they get that sports aren’t just about winning, but also about personal growth and emotional development.

Bear in mind these tips:

  • Choose the Right Time: Find a moment when the coach is not in the middle of a drill or preoccupied with game strategy.
  • Focus on Solutions: Suggest strategies that have worked for you at home, like acknowledging the child’s feelings or giving them space when needed.
  • Ask for Insight: Coaches see your child in a different context and may have valuable observations that can inform your approach.

Remember, coaches have been in the thick of sports, just like you, and they’ve seen plenty of kids face similar challenges. Their experience is invaluable, and they’re likely to have encountered all types of emotional reactions from players.

Creating a partnership with the coach can also teach your child a lesson in managing emotions through teamwork. It shows them that it’s okay to seek help and that there are supportive adults they can turn to both on and off the field. This shared effort can reassure your child that they’re not alone in their journey and that overcoming emotional hurdles is part of the game.

Help your child build emotional resilience

When your child’s eyes well up with tears on the field or court, think of it as an opportunity to strengthen their emotional resilience. As a sports enthusiast who’s played baseball, basketball, and football, and now coaches young, aspiring athletes, you understand firsthand the pressures that come with competitive play. But don’t fret—you’re in the perfect position to guide your child through these challenges.

First off, emphasize effort over outcomes. Praise your child’s hard work, determination, and improvements, regardless of whether they win or lose. This approach shifts the focus to personal growth and learning, rather than just the scoreboard.

Here’s how you can instill emotional resilience:

  • Model composed behavior: Kids often mirror adults. If you keep your cool during tense moments, your child’s likely to pick up on that.
  • Encourage positive self-talk: Teach your child to replace negative thoughts with constructive ones. Phrases like “I can do this” can be game-changers.
  • Set realistic goals: Work with your child to establish achievable goals that push their boundaries without setting them up for disappointment.

Remember the importance of a supportive environment.

  • Foster a team culture that values each player’s emotional well-being.
  • Celebrate team efforts and individual milestones alike.
  • Ensure that your child knows their worth isn’t tied to their performance in sports.

Teaching your child to handle wins and losses with grace can extend beyond the game. They’ll learn to face life’s adversities with the same resilience. Encourage a growth mindset, where challenges are seen not as roadblocks but as steps in their developmental journey. As a mentor and coach, reinforcing these attitudes will not only benefit your child in sports but throughout all facets of life.

Tailor these strategies to fit your child’s unique personality, and watch as they transform setbacks into stepping stones toward emotional strength and sportsmanship. Keep the lines of communication open and maintain a supportive stance—this is key to helping your child navigate the emotional highs and lows of competitive sports. Remember, building resilience is a process, one that they’ll refine with each game and each season.

Encourage a healthy perspective on sports

Sports are more than just games; they’re an opportunity for life lessons. As a parent or coach with a deep appreciation for competition, you know the highs and lows firsthand. You’ve been on the field, giving your all in baseball, basketball, and football. Now, as an involved spectator and mentor to young athletes, your role extends to teaching them about healthy competitiveness.

Focus on the process rather than the outcome. Winning is great, but it’s the effort, commitment, and teamwork that truly matter. Share stories of your playing days—how you dealt with setbacks and improved over time. Emphasize the value of hard work and perseverance over victory. This perspective helps children understand that growth often comes through challenges.

Promote balance in your child’s life. Sure, sports are important, but so are academics, hobbies, family time, and relaxation. Encouraging well-roundedness shows kids that one game isn’t the be-all and end-all. This balance can alleviate the pressure they may feel to win, reducing the likelihood of emotional overwhelm during competitions.

Lastly, foster sportsmanship. Teach them to respect opponents, officials, and teammates. Instill the idea that every player has a role and every role is important. Positive sportsmanship is crucial for maintaining a healthy attitude towards sports and will serve them well in every group activity they encounter.

As you nurture these values in your child, remember the impact of your own behavior. Your actions speak volumes, so model the same healthy perspective you wish to impart. Your love for the game is evident; let your support for your child’s emotional well-being be equally obvious.


Remember, your child’s tears on the field aren’t a sign of weakness but a moment to strengthen emotional resilience. By modeling composure and fostering a culture of support, you’re setting the stage for growth both in and out of the game. Keep nurturing that healthy perspective on sports, where the journey matters more than the destination. Your guidance in teaching respect and sportsmanship will go a long way. Stay the course, and you’ll watch your child not only dry their tears but also flourish as a confident and emotionally intelligent athlete.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is it important to validate a child’s emotions during sports games?

Validating a child’s emotions during sports helps them feel understood and supported, which is crucial for their emotional development and enjoyment of the game.

What strategies can parents use to support their child in sports?

Parents can model composed behavior, encourage positive self-talk, set realistic goals, and create a supportive environment to bolster their child’s emotional resilience in sports.

How can teaching emotional resilience benefit a child in sports?

Teaching emotional resilience helps children handle wins and losses gracefully, cope with stress, and maintain motivation and enthusiasm for the sport.

Why is it important for a team culture to value emotional well-being?

A team culture that values emotional well-being ensures that all players feel respected and supported, which can enhance team cohesion and overall performance.

What is a healthy perspective on sports that parents should encourage?

Parents should promote focusing on the process rather than the outcome, encouraging balance and sportsmanship, and teaching children to respect everyone involved in the game.

How can parents model a healthy perspective on sports?

Parents can model a healthy perspective by showing respect for coaches, officials, and the opposing team, and by prioritizing effort and learning over winning.

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