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Parental Feedback: How to Talk to Your Child About Sport

You want your child to succeed in their sport more than anything. Project Mbappe may well be underway and you’re providing them with all the support, advice and encouragement in the world.

But without knowing, you may be causing them more harm than good.

Pressure is the number one cause of sport dropout, and children who perceive parental pressure are more likely to have performance anxiety and burnout.

And a large source of sporting pressure children perceive comes from the dreaded car ride home. A journey home with a parent turned pundit can provide an uncomfortable experience for a kid, dampening their enjoyment of sport which is made worse by a cognitive bias in how we store memories.

The peak-end rule

The mind doesn’t work like a video recorder and instead, memories are encoded based on feelings and emotions rather than a rational average of the entire event.

Brain storage is limited so we economise our memories by focussing on the peak and end moments. The highlight and the closing ceremony. Emotions beat rationality when fighting for precious space in the mind.

And it makes sense. Remembering the best and the worst parts of an event helps us to repeat or avoid the situation in the future.


Peak events cause the most emotion which means they are most easily remembered.

Peak moments can be positive or negative. Think about the last game you played or watched your child play. What comes to mind?

My bet is that you can probably remember the best and worst parts of the performance more so than the average ones in between. They triggered the most intense emotions and therefore were granted storage space in your mind.


We change our memory of an event based on how it ends.

Think back to a bad ending of a movie or a rude waiter at the end of a meal and you may have said something like it “ruined the whole experience”. Recall a football game that spent 90-mins at 0-0 but was saved by a stoppage time winner, or a compliment you received as you were leaving work and you might’ve said "that made my day”.

The experience hasn’t changed, only your memory of it, which is disproportionately based on what happened at the end of an event but changes your perception of the entire thing.

The car ride home

So why’s this bias in our memory bad for youth sport and why does the car ride home have such an impact on drop out rates and sport enjoyment?

Picture this. You’ve just had fun with your friends doing something you enjoy. You get in the car only to be berated by your parent on your poor performance and apparent lack of effort.

“Why didn’t you shoot there?”

“You barely looked interested”

“Why did you do that?”

“What were you thinking?”

This Dad turned Jurgen Klopp rant goes on for 5-mins. No big deal right? 5-mins is an insignificant amount of time compared to a 90-minute game.

But…one small event at the end changes the memory of the whole experience. A disproportionate amount of weight is assigned to the peak and the end events of that day. Instead of just 5% of the experience, the car journey turns into 50% of the memory, which turns from a 9/10 to a 5/10, even though the average of the experience was a 7/10.

The end moment forms a large amount of your child’s automatic association to their sport. If their impulse is the memory of being told off in the car on the way home, they’re going to form a negative automatic association with their sport. Remember we store memories and make decisions based on emotions before rational judgements. Our mind works fast and impulsively before it works slowly and rationally.